Her hopes of one day becoming a nurse ended when she was hit by a driver who didn't stick around to see if she was OK. She almost died, lost all motor skills in her hands, and is confined to a wheelchair.
But MTSU student Jennifer Austin, 26, from Cowan, said that's not going to stop her living her dream of driving again.
With two weeks left before the semester ends, Austin is like most students, cramming for final exams.
"Graduate school is kicking my butt," Austin said.
But unlike most students, she's a quadriplegic.
The Franklin County woman was involved in a hit-and-run car crash in 2006, on Interstate 24 near Manchester that left her paralyzed from the chest down and clinging to life. Doctors only gave her a 20 percent chance of living.
"They told all my family to come in to say their last goodbyes because they couldn't stop the bleeding."
That was then, but this is now. She graduated from MTSU with a bachelor's degree in Human Sciences, Child Development and Family Studies, and will soon finish graduate school with a master's in Health and Human Performance with a concentration in Health.
In addition to her hope of one day walking again, Austin also has a dream of getting behind the wheel and driving for the first time since the accident. That's something she said she can't do with her outdated 1997 Dodge Caravan.
"Being able to drive will offer so many possibilities with my career," Austin said. "As soon as I graduate, I have to get a job."
Austin has entered an online contest sponsored by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. Three winners will be receiving a brand new, customized, handicap accessible vans.
"It will be a dream come true to win this," she said.
Austin had to drop out of physical therapy because of she didn't have a reliable way of getting back and forth - plus, it was costly.
"Therapy is so important to me, and it's the only way that I will ever have a chance to walk again, that's my ultimate goal," she said.
Right now, she is living independently. She said she has the will, drive and determination to live with total independence, and said winning one of the vans will be the first step.
"God had a greater purpose for me in life and I'm still here for a reason, and I have to make every moment count because of that," Austin said.
But in order to have a chance of winning, Austin will need to place in the top 5 among 1,200 contestants. You can vote for her once a day on your computer, or multiple times a day with your cell phone. Click on the following link to cast your vote:
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