“One bad decision can really change everything in your life.”
That’s the message Gina Giaffoglione wanted to get across to Glenwood Community Middle School students Thursday afternoon as she talked about a decision she made as a college student that turned her life upside down.
Speaking from her wheelchair on the floor of the middle school gymnasium, Gina recounted the Easter weekend night in 2008 when she got into car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
“My life was perfect until March 22, 2008,” the Glenwood Community High School graduate said. “I made one bad decision and my life will never be the same because of it.”
Gina was a student at Wayne State College (Neb.) on the night she agreed to accept a ride to a party from a person who had been drinking, despite her “gut feeling” that something was going to go wrong.
“I had my own keys in my hand and was going to drive myself, but he said, ‘Trust me, we’ll be fine,” Gina told her middle school audience.
Everything was going fine until the driver got daring and sped his sports car up to 80 mph in a 25-mph zone. The driver was unable to negotiate a turn and crashed the vehicle into a utility pole. Gina was ejected. The car rolled three times before coming to rest on top of her right arm and right leg. Her left leg was pressed up against her chest.
Gina was transported by medical helicopter to a Sioux City hospital where she received life-saving treatment for injuries that left her paralyzed in the lower half of her body.
It’s now been nearly six years since the accident. Gina’s completed her bachelor’s degree at Wayne State and lives an active life from a wheelchair. She teaches tumbling classes in Glenwood and Laurel, Neb., she’s played tennis and basketball from her chair and even gone water skiing. Most importantly, however, she’s speaking to young people about the importance of good decision making through a program she calls Perfectly Imperfect.
Gina not only shared details of the accident with her audience in Glenwood, but also talked about the day-to-day challenges that come with being a paraplegic and the consequences of a bad decision she’ll live with for the rest of her life.
“Imagine never being able to hug your parents in a normal way again,” she said. “My dad won’t be able to walk his daughter down the aisle when I get married next summer because of one bad decision I made.”
After her presentation, which included graphic slides of the accident scene, Gina fielded questions from the audience. Many of the questions centered on her ability to do so many activities from a wheelchair.
“My main goal is trying to relate to the kids,” Gina said in an interview prior to the presentation. “If I can prevent just one kid from making a bad decision, it’s worth it.”
Mark Starner, activities director at the middle school, said he believes Gina’s presentation will have a positive impact on the students.
“She talked about the importance of making good decisions. A lot of young people don’t think of the after effects of their decisions,” Starner said. “This will have an impact because a lot of kids here know Gina and her connections to the school. Her brother, Adam, teaches eighth-grade history here.”
Middle school principal Heidi Stanley said Gina sent a powerful message to the students and she’s hopeful they’ll be reminded of her message when making some important decisions of their own down the road.
At the start of her presentation, Gina reminded the Glenwood students she once played volleyball and basketball and performed tumbling routines in the very same gymnasium they had gathered to hear her presentation.
“I remember sitting in these very same assemblies when I went to school here,” she said, “listening to somebody talking to us and thinking, ‘Yes, I really feel bad for you, but it’s never going to happen to me.’ Well, it did happen to me because of one bad decision.”