IT'S not often that someone dies three times and lives to tell their story to rooms full of teenagers with the hope of keeping them safe.
57-year-old John Perry has the aura of someone who is wise beyond their years.
“They’re emotional and upset afterwards which is what it’s all about,” he said before reliving his unbelievable ordeal again in front of a fresh crowd of impressionable teens.
“They come in rowdy and come out with their heads down.”
On Tuesday, May 5, 177 Year 11 students from Bega and Bombala High Schools attended the day-long Rotary Youth Driver Awareness (RYDA) program at the Sapphire Coast Kart Club's track at Frogs Hollow.
Almost 600 students from the region will attend the six interactive sessions covering topics such as hazard perception, distraction management, vehicle safety, stopping distances, fatigue and the experiences of crash survivors - which is where Mr Perry’s experience brings home the harsh realities of driving.
His life changed forever when he and a work colleague were heading south from Narooma across the Corunna River Bridge when their van was hit head on by a car travelling 130kmh.
“I did 12 years in the military and didn’t get a scratch,” he said as he described in detail having no control over the situation he was in, his heart beating louder and slower until he reached a point where he knew he was dead.
“I have to tell you something, it’s not painless, it’s one of the most painful things you will ever feel,” he told a room full of silent students.
“I can’t even explain what the pain was like,” he said.
Mr Perry described a sense of timelessness after the crash, he described the moment he was aware he was dead, and the feeling around him that he was not meant to be where he was guiding him back to consciousness.
He was airlifted to Canberra Hospital and revived for a second time while still in the air.
It took 140 pins, bolts and screws to rebuild his legs, and 13 months in intensive care and two years in hospital before he was finally home.
After being told he would never walk again he found himself at home as a wheelchair-bound single father with little to no support.
However, showing his inner strength he made the decision to teach himself to walk again.
“Besides dying, the worst thing is being told you are never going to walk again,” he told the students.
“I built railings around my shed and it took me 18 months to take my first step.
“I had five years taken out of my life because of someone else’s stupidity.”
The rehabilitation process was a long, difficult and lonely one, and one day Mr Perry decided to throw his morphine down the toilet and live with the pain he was in.
It was a decision he feels helped him deal with the situation and work through its realities.
“Trust me it’s not nice being a victim because you have to live with it for your whole life,” he said.
Nearly 12 years after his tragic car crash, Mr Perry now works with people with disabilities, primarily other car crash victims at Nardy House just north of Quaama, and has been involved with the RYDA program for nine years.
“Be careful out there, make the right choices and take care of each other,” he told the students.
“We all have to live with your choices,” he said, his voice resonating with every person in the room.
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