Peter Hawkins can personally testify how a person’s life can change in an instant.
In 1981 Mr. Hawkins was a Valley Stream Central senior. Captain of the football team and a varsity wrestler and lacrosse player, he was sleeping in the passenger seat of friend’s car on his way home from a party when the driver lost control and Mr. Hawkins went through the windshield, suffering a serious head wound and a dislocated spine that included fractures of the T-7, 9 and 9 vertebrae.
Pete Hawkins reminded Huntington students that life is exceedingly precious.
While his friend was able to literally walk away from the accident, Mr. Hawkins wasn’t as fortunate. Following five days in a coma, it became clear he was paralyzed from the waist down. He spent four months in the hospital and another two months at a rehabilitation facility. He has never walked again.
Mr. Hawkins went on to coach interscholastic sports and even compete as an athlete. Today he works as a motivational speaker, sharing the story of his accident and its aftermath, how life is fragile and every day needs to be cherished. Making good decisions is a key part of his message.
Huntington senior Alexandra McKenzie and a group of fellow students who know Mr. Hawkins personally approached the PTSA and recommended bringing the program into the high school.
The teenagers had heard Mr. Hawkins speak at various camps and found his story so riveting and downright powerful that they wanted their classmates and the entire student body to hear what he has to say and learn from it.
“Peter Hawkins is a good friend of mine and his story is truly moving and impactful,” Ms. McKenzie said. “I believe that it is important for students to hear his story and become more aware of how one night can change the path of someone’s life.”
Principal Brenden Cusack and PTSA officials met with the students to hear their firsthand testimonials regarding Mr. Hawkins and how his life story has touched them. The group huddled and decided the message was an important one for the high school student body at-large to hear.
With Mr. Hawkins sitting nearby before an auditorium filled with students and faculty members, Ms. McKenzie and junior Hadley Clayton introduced the special visitor to the huge crowd.
Ms. McKenzie spoke from the heart, describing Mr. Hawkins as “mentally and physically unstoppable” and as someone “who has done more in his lifetime than the average person will do.”
Mr. Hawkins went on to speak candidly about how his life drastically changed after surviving the horrific drunk driving accident. He showed videos of him scoring touchdowns, tackling runners and doing flips on the field. He explained he once considered himself as “indestructible.”
As Huntington students sat attentively, Mr. Hawkins used a folksy style to speak about the obvious dangers of drinking and driving, but he also addressed peer pressure and many of the key issues facing teenagers today.
Mr. Hawkins was graphic while providing an account of how his daily life has changed as a result of being paralyzed. He mentioned the stigma that he has faced with being wheelchair bound and how people treat him differently when they realize he is dependent on mechanical help.
As Mr. Hawkins brought students through his journey, which included untold hours of rehabilitation, he connected the experience to setting goals and striving to accomplish them. He became involved in weight training, obtained a black belt in karate and enjoys skydiving, skiing and even water-skiing. He currently travels all over the globe competing in marathons and has even placed first in many.
It’s been said that teenagers are hard to impress, but the Huntington students were respectful and genuinely interested in hearing what Mr. Hawkins had to say. He routinely speaks at school, camps and athletic forums.
“I go in and tell my story and if I can keep one kid from doing the same stupid thing that I did, then that’s great,” Mr. Hawkins said.
Following the formal presentation, Mr. Hawkins went on to spend most of the day interacting with high school students around the building, including in the cafeteria and gymnasium. He was open and receptive to all sorts of questions, comments and remarks. He even showed off his strength in the gym by climbing the pull-up bar, impressing students by quickly doing a dozen pull-ups.
PTSA officials made a point of thanking the students who advocated for bringing Mr. Hawkins into the high school. They feel his story will leave a lasting impression on everyone that heard it.