Born into a family of hockey players on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, Kristen Cameron grew up playing the sport. She was a star hockey player at Bowdoin College in Maine, then in 2010 took a job as assistant hockey coach in a Division 1 program at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA. But in September of that year her life changed instantly when she became the victim of a drunk driver in a hit and run accident, leaving her with a spinal cord injury and paralysis from the chest down.
It had started out as a great day. Kristen had moved into a new apartment, conveniently located by the ice rink. After unpacking and running errands, she decided to take a bike ride on the local riding trails. It was then that she was struck by a drunk driver who fled the scene, leaving her on the side of the road with a fractured spine. Witnesses say she flew nearly 50 feet into the air, and the driver stopped to check for damages to his car before driving off.
Most of her hospital stay was a blur, but one memory sticks out for Cameron. “Someone came in and poked my leg and asked me if I could feel it, and I said, ‘No,'” Cameron said. “My sister immediately got up and left the room because she was upset. That’s one of the things I remember the most. Her being so upset, me feeling bad that she was upset. I don’t know, I guess I never really believed it.”
Cameron also remembers her family and friends talking about the man, 49-year-old Allen Peters, whose bad choice altered the course of her life so drastically. “I remember talking to my dad when I was still in Erie in intensive care and hearing everyone talk about wanting [Peters] to get sentenced,” she said. “But in the back of my mind, I thought, ‘He probably needs more help than I do. He needs more help than anyone.'”
Peters was arraigned and pleaded guilty in the spring of 2011. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Unfortunately, Peters had no insurance on the vehicle he was driving, so Cameron’s family has had to bear the responsibility of her treatment and therapy.
While Peters is in jail, Cameron is trying to figure out how to live inside her “new body.” She is paralyzed from the chest down, and does not have use of her fingers, but that doesn’t stop her from being workout crazy, just like she was prior to the accident. Cameron can be found most days in the gym of the assisted living facility where she resides, working out her shoulders, deltoids, and biceps.
Through her recovery, she has kept a positive attitude and never given up, although she admits there have been some lows. This year she attended the 2011 Women’s Frozen Four at Mercyhurst. From a private viewing room above the ice, the reality sunk in. “I was supposed to be there that year…. Everything set in; I saw what I was missing out on,” says Cameron.
But she’s not giving up, not by a long shot. Cameron is eying a new wheelchair that will enable her to stand up, which just may get her back into the game as a coach. She’s also considering a wheelchair bike, which will allow her to continue her triathlon training.
“Just being able to get my body into as good of a place as it can be, that keeps me going,” Cameron said. “But a big thing is that, through all of this stuff … hearing how many people at home are thinking about me and have given money to my family. There are so many people that I don’t even know that help out. Those people, from what I’m told, all think that I inspire them and to me, if I inspire them, that’s what motivates me to keep working.”