|Jim Rockwell addressing the Everest students|
On Feb. 17, 1984, Jim Rockwell made some irresponsible decisions
that changed his life forever.
On April 2, 2014, Jim visited
Everest Collegiate High School, hoping to convince the students
to consider the affects of their actions on themselves and
In an effort he calls the Rockwell Project, he has
been traveling the country for 22 years now speaking to
young people. Jim’s website, http://www.rockwellproject.com/, states he hopes to
deter underage drinking among teens and young adults. But it
is likely his presence does so much more.
The lanky, congenial
man now walks with a cane, has altered facial muscles
and eyes that no longer work together. He speaks slowly
and with difficulty. No one would know this is the
same person in the photograph of his younger self, at
age 16, a promising athlete and musician in Orange County,
California, with everything going for him.
Like so many other young
people, the 16-year-old Jim made bad decisions, and one tragic
enough to cause an auto accident that almost ended his
On that fateful day, Jim not only decided to skip
his late-day classes, but he influenced his friends to join
him at his house to drink alcohol and go for
a drive in the car.
|Jim Rockwell at age 16|
He still harbors the guilt of
endangering the others in the car with him when he
would eventually misjudge a turn in the road and lose
control, nearly hitting an innocent family in his neighborhood and
striking a telephone pole.
“At least I had the good judgment
to swerve and not hurt 4 innocent people,” he said.
“I was the one driving. I should have suffered the
While the two other boys in the car escaped major
injury, Jim himself was thrown through the windshield onto the
pavement. The car then rolled down the embankment and pinned
his head to the ground.
“Everybody thought I was dead,” he
said. “I had no noticeable vital signs.”
At the hospital, doctors
would declare Jim brain dead and urge his parents to
“pull the plug.”
“They said this over and over to them
for 2 ½ days,” he said.
After 3 days, some slight
brain activity would return, but doctors predicted Jim would never
come out of his coma, and they wanted to transfer
him to a facility for long term care.
“My Dad fought
to keep me in ICU for three weeks,” Jim said.
“Then I started to make motions like I would come
out of it, and they couldn’t believe it.”
The roller coaster
ride wasn’t over, however, and swelling on Jim’s brain would
bring back his coma, and he was finally transferred out
of ICU to the other facility. But after three weeks,
Jim would become the first person to recover at that
same facility. “I am a medical miracle.”
Finally on July 26th
of that year, Jim was sent home with the understanding
that the long road of rehabilitation, toward some semblance of a normal
life, had just begun.
He remembers how so-called “friends” at the
time scattered “like cockroaches when the lights are turned on”
when he returned to school in a wheelchair.
Jim said he
discovered who his true friends were -- those who stayed
with him and visited him nearly every day while he
was in the hospital. “Those are the kind of people
you should be with,” he said. “They will benefit your
life, throughout your life.”
His true friends included his girlfriend at
the time. However, Jim’s anger and resentment would eventually drive
her away. “I broke up with her,” he admitted sadly.
(Since then, he was blessed to meet a wonderful woman,
and has been married for three years.)
“It drives me crazy
about what I have to go through being disabled,” he
said. “If I had just been responsible…”
One of the things
he most misses is his ability to play music. An
accomplished pianist and trombone player in his teen years, Jim
said he still has “music in my head and in
“Now performance is all I have left.” Jim uses
this gift to share his story and hopefully help young
people to think twice about their choices.
What advice does he
- Appreciate your gifts and try to improve yourself. “You need
to stay at 100 percent,” he said. “You need all
your percentage points so you can get through adult life.
That is what life is about. Improvement….The brain is still
developing and changing through age 25…Keep studying for that test,
even if you get a C the first time.”
|Jim still has difficulty walking, speaking and seeing.|
- Be thankful for what
you have. “I wish I had the advantage of a
school like this,” he said about Everest. “This is a
wonderful place to be. My grade alone had 1,000 kids,
with 30-45 in a class.”
- Love your parents, and listen to
them. “It tears my heart out how I hurt my
parents forever,” he said. He suggests, rather than ignoring the
things parents say, young people should share what their parents
tell them with their friends. “Then you can find out
that their [your friends’] parents are saying the same things,”
- Regarding drugs and alcohol -- “Just stay away from
it. It’s not that tough.”
- Concentrate on self control. “Remember, when
you are driving a car, it may be convenient, but
you are driving a lethal weapon.”