The Amazing Story of Coach Gary Weller
Gary Weller has every reason to pin blame. He was an active, athletic man, full of life and energy. The majority of his adult life was spent engaging his passions, football and people, earning him the affectionate title of Coach. Coach was well-known and well-respected in his community, as he spent fourteen years running the sideline, coaching his players as the head football coach of Pine Forest High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
On April 14, 2004, a beautiful spring day, Coach dropped his car off at the mechanic and decided to jog home. This was a common practice, something he’d done numerous times before. Even at fifty-five, he remained in great physical shape; a quality that would likely save his life.
Donning a blue windbreaker, he set off on the four-mile trek that would lead him home. Despite the opposition from his wife and his mechanic, who both offered to give him a ride, he carried out his plan.
Coach was a very alert runner, always assessing his terrain. As he ran that day, he noticed a utility van making a U-turn in the parking lot to his right. As he passed by, he was unaware that this particular city utility van was stolen and driven by a deranged man intent on running down men, using the van as his weapon. Coach was his next victim.
Moments later, Weller was hit from behind as the driver veered some thirty feet, intentionally striking his victim and dragging him over a hundred feet underneath the van. As the tire marks across his blue windbreaker would later testify, the driver backed over his motionless victim before speeding away. Slipping in and out of consciousness, Coach knew death was certain.
The attack left Weller with fractures too numerous to count. First responders would later comment that the physical condition of his body was unlike anything they had ever seen; he was almost unrecognizable. Weller would be resuscitated four times before being airlifted to UNC-Chapel Hill Hospital, where he would lie hopelessly unconscious, comatose for thirty-five days. His wife, Cathy, would later say that those thirty-five days were the most difficult of her life.
Miraculously, and despite tire marks across his chest, Coach suffered no spinal cord injuries and no permanent brain damage. Yet, in his own words, he was completely broken. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken. As he awoke from his coma, he became aware of his grave condition.
Coach admits, “I was mad; this wasn’t my vision for my life.”
Determined to talk to everyone on the scene, Coach began asking questions to better grasp the situation and discover some measure of understanding. In those conversations, he realized the only understanding was that he should be dead. In fact, the next victim of the deranged driver tragically bled to death on the scene. Gary Weller shouldn’t be alive.
Coach Weller spent over two years on his back recovering from his wounds, which left him but a shadow of his former, physically fit self. Actually, the physical condition his body was in at the time led to his ability to battle back from his brokenness. Two years spent lying on your back gives you plenty of time to think, plenty of time to become bitter. However, Coach chose a different path. He understood he was broken for a reason.
Weller’s physical brokenness was unmistakable. Through remarkable surgeries, his body was able to heal, and although he was limited physically, his body was not crushed. Neither was his spirit. His spiritual and emotional brokenness could have yielded a bitter, broken man. However, he made a choice—a choice to respond. During the capital murder trial, Coach verbally forgave his attacker.
How is that possible? How could he forgive?
In his own words, Coach said, “I refused to be bent up with bitterness.”
He understood that forgiveness was a necessary tool in repairing brokenness.
Without forgiveness, wounds cannot fully heal, as forgiveness is the catalyst for the healing of the spirit. Without forgiveness, anger secures a foothold. If you’re not careful, it will make a home in your soul, crippling it for eternity.
Weller, now sixty-five, is ten years removed from the tragic events that forever shaped his life. He is bound to a wheelchair, only able to stand with the support of a walker, but he doesn’t let his physical ability limit him. He travels locally in eastern North Carolina, speaking to groups with empowering words, a story that shapes lives, and mottos like, “A bad attitude is like a flat tire; you’ve gotta change it if you want to get where you’re going.”
In short, he coaches them. He uses his brokenness and healing to heal the hearts of others.
I recently had the privilege of hearing Coach speak, and then the opportunity to interview him as part of my journey to understanding true richness. In our time together, he shared these words from Garth Brooks’ beautiful song “The River.” It was these words that encouraged him as he recovered:
“There’s bound to be rough waters and I know I’ll take some falls But with the good Lord as my Captain I can make it through them all”
As you walk your path to healing, and as you wrestle with forgiveness, amazing things will happen. You will be given opportunities to heal those wounds in ways you would never imagine.
A few years after his recovery, Coach was attending a class reunion for his son. His story preceded him, and one of his son’s classmates was actually the wife of Weller’s attending surgeon in the ER the night of his accident. The surgeon had not planned on going, but he heard Coach would be there and wanted to meet him himself. As the ER surgeon approached Weller and told him who he was, both were overcome with emotion. As they hugged and wept, Coach simply said thank you through his tears.
The ER physician looked right into Weller’s eyes and said, “Don’t thank me; I just do God’s work.”
Rich words indeed.
Abraham Lincoln once said:
“I’m not concerned that you have fallen, I’m concerned that you arise.”
Gary Weller reminds all of us that being broken isn’t about staying down, it’s about healing–it’s about rising.