PENDLETON - When promising student athlete Jim Rockwell decided to cut class and go drinking with his buddies that February day in 1984, the 16-year-old had no idea how that decision would change the rest of his life.
Twenty years later Rockwell is trying to help other kids avoid his mistake.
Rockwell, 36, of Fullerton, Calif., crashed his sports car after drinking that day in 1984. The car landed on top of his head. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene, but doctors realized at the hospital he was still alive. He was in a coma for four weeks and spent years learning to walk and talk all over again.
Now Rockwell travels the country talking to middle and high school students about making choices for a healthy lifestyle.
"I hope you appreciate your hearing, appreciate your eyesight, appreciate walking around and being normal," Rockwell told students at Sunridge Middle School in Pendleton Wednesday afternoon. "Those things are really a blessing you may not realize you have."
Barry and Meryl Featherstone, who own Graybeal Distributing, an alcohol distributing company in Pendleton that sells about 75 percent of the alcohol in Umatilla and Morrow counties, sponsored Rockwell's visit to Umatilla County. Rockwell spoke to students at Sunridge, Pendleton High School and Hermiston High School this week.
"While no one in our market distributes directly to children, we felt we should do this for our children," Barry Featherstone said. "We don't want children buying alcohol. We really feel a responsibility toward this community. If we could save just one child's life by doing this, then it's money well spent."
Rockwell's speech isn't anti-alcohol. It's about making smart and responsible choices.
Rockwell said that while kids are "probably the smartest, most intelligent people on the planet," he knows that sometimes teenagers don't always have the greatest judgment.
"You are deciding right now who you want to be in high school," Rockwell said. "I don't want to see you throw it all away by choosing an unhealthy lifestyle."
Rockwell has created a mission called The Rockwell Project, which targets teens and other young adults in the hope of deterring underage drinking. His Web site is www.rockwellproject.com.