NORWALK – Miguel Rivera could have easily died the night of August 15, 2009, but there was too much life left to live, too much work to be done, and hope to be spread, for him to take the easy route.
Miguel was only 18 years old, just graduated Norwalk High School and just a few days away from beginning his next chapter at UC Santa Barbara when he became a C6 quadriplegic.
Miguel had everything going for him before that fateful Friday night. He was popular, athletic, and had good grades, but one inebriated decision nearly took that all away in an instant.
Miguel made the life-altering decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated and wound up driving off the 605 freeway. His car flipped and crashed into a ditch separating the north and southbound freeways near the Firestone exit.
Luckily no one else was seriously injured, but Miguel remembers being told by doctors that he would never walk again.
He could have easily given up hope in the hospital as his new reality started to sink in. The simple tasks of bathing himself, getting in and out bed, going to the restroom were suddenly not easy for him anymore.
Nothing was easy anymore for the former high school quarterback who had it all.
“There were two or three years immediately following the accident that I was in a deep depression. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to be alive, really,” explains Miguel.
He was used to being social and active, but his injuries tarnished his spirit and left him immobile and alone.
Miguel credits the love of his family, the team of Paralysis Specialists at A Perfect Step, and the uplifting words of a neighbor, comedian Eric Blake, that inspired him to turn his curse into a blessing by reframing his state of mind.
“When I started going to my rehab and seeing the community of people with similar injuries all working towards recovery I began to feel empowered. Slowly, I started feeling my confidence and I wasn’t ashamed to be seen,” explains Miguel. “I wanted to as much as I could do, however, I could do it.”
He realized he was going to have to work, just like everybody else. Wake up and grind every day out just like the rest of us.
He understood his new circumstances and obstacles.
There was no time to feel sorry for himself. Now he would have to work a little harder, a little different, but with greater purpose.
Miguel began taking his physical therapy more seriously and enrolled in Cerritos College in hopes to pick up where he left off.
Soon he found himself more determined and driven than ever before. He was given a second chance at life and he didn’t want to waste the precious opportunity of redemption.
“My injury has not only strengthened me as a person, but it’s also given me the second chance to do something positive with my life such as reaching out to adolescents throughout the community and raising awareness on various obstacles one may encounter in life” says Miguel on his website.
With his renewed will to live, he felt anything was possible, Miguel eventually transferred to Cal State Dominguez Hills before graduating with high honors.
Miguel launched a nonprofit organization called The Dream Big Project, intended to bring hope and unity back into the community of Norwalk and its surrounding cities.
“We want to change the culture. We want to normalize positive growth in the community,” says Miguel.
Last week, Miguel was invited to share his story with the students at John Glenn High School in Norwalk in efforts to bring awareness to the legitimate dangers of drinking and driving, but most importantly, to remind the future to never give up and to always dream big.
The organization has raised thousands of dollars through fundraisers and private donations. Miguel and his organization has given hundreds of school supplies, including backpacks, to Norwalk’s underserved and underprivileged youth.
On July 27 the organization will be hosting its first annual scholarship awards ceremony at the Norwalk Arts & Sports Complex.
Visit the Dream Big Project’s website at www.dreambigproject.org to follow Miguel’s steps toward walking again, volunteer for community outreach, and keep in touch with the cause.
By William Odis Martin