The speaker was paralyzed in a car crash a year after graduating from high school.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
LORDSTOWN -- Richard Gillespie was a high school football, wrestling and track star, but a night of partying left him paralyzed.
"I'm not here to tell you what to do," Gillespie, of Georgia, told students at Lordstown High School on Monday. "I just want to share some mistakes I made when I was your age."
Seated in a wheelchair on the school's auditorium stage, Gillespie told of his days in high school sports -- captain of the football and wrestling teams, co-captain of the baseball team and track and field star. He started drinking in ninth grade at the urging of his best friend.
"After that I was drinking about every weekend," Gillespie said.
He had offers to play college football, but upon graduation, decided he was sick of school and being told what to do. On prom night a year after graduation, Gillespie was drinking with his friends as he'd done many times before.
"I drove 20 miles and had one mile to go," he said. "I went off the road at 100 mph and hit a telephone pole. I wasn't wearing a seat belt. I never wore a seat belt."
The momentum threw Gillespie through the windshield backwards and 50 feet into the air. He hit the ground head first. Feeling no pain, he tried to get up but couldn't.
"I was paralyzed almost instantly from the shoulders down,' he said.
His neck was broken, and he lay off the road for four hours, watching the cars of his friends drive by. When he was found, he was taken to the hospital, where doctors didn't expect him to survive.
"I spent 8 1/2 months in two hospitals and almost died two different times," Gillespie said.
Doctors told him he'd never walk again and probably never be able to use his arms.
He regained the use of his arms but remains in a wheelchair.
Friend never came
The friend who gave Gillespie his first drink never came to see him in the hospital, but the father he grew up watching get drunk and hit his mother did. Gillespie hadn't seen his father for several years, and the two spent hours getting reacquainted. After leaving the hospital, Gillespie's father died of a heart attack.
"I lost it all for a drink," he said. "I lost it all for my friends."
Gillespie travels the country, speaking to high school students and others about the perils of drinking and driving.