When Zoe Rollins and her sister Emily got in a car accident two years ago that would change their lives forever, the last thing on Zoe’s mind was inspiring others.
“One day, I was preparing for (volleyball) regionals, and the next day I couldn’t even sit up in bed,” she said.
Nearly two years after that fateful crash, Zoe is being honored by Sportswomen of Colorado with the 2022 Inspiration Award.
“To be able to win an award for inspiring other people is amazing,” Zoe says. “I am really happy that throughout my journey, I was able to help other people because it is very encouraging to me to keep going knowing that other people are inspired by me.”
So much has happened to this Thompson Valley High School senior in the past two years as she battled her way back from the snowy-weather accident that shattered her L1 vertebrae and paralyzed her from the waist down. Zoe’s family lives in the foothills, and she and Emily were driving home from volleyball practice the day before Regionals when the car slid and went over the edge. The car rolled multiple times, and both girls were ejected.
“When I was there, I wasn’t really thinking about the outcome,” said Zoe. “Obviously, I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t see my sister. I didn’t even know if she was alive.”
Emily had a broken pelvis and collapsed lungs, among other injuries. After spending a week in the hospital, she was able to go home and play volleyball again her senior year.
But Zoe’s injuries were more severe. She spent more than a week in the Intensive Care Unit and then went to Craig Hospital to work on rehabilitating after her spinal cord injury.
“I couldn’t even realize that what happened to me actually happened,” she explains. “I don’t think my mind really comprehended that it’s not something that can just heal itself.”
Two years after the accident, Zoe still goes to therapy 2-3 times a week and is still paralyzed below her knees. Yet the progress she has made is phenomenal, including driving herself around using hand controls, walking with crutches for short amounts of time, and even serving occasionally for her beloved Thompson Valley High School state-champion volleyball team.
“Surprisingly, now I’ve gotten more independent,” Zoe says. “I drive myself to school every day, do a lot for myself. If no one is home in the house, I can still do things.”
As for how the accident changed her mentally, Zoe says she still has hard days, but the challenges she has faced have also made her grateful.
“I have days where I wonder, why did it happen to me? But I’ve gotten used to thinking about that stuff,” she reflects. “I’ve learned how to take it and make something better out of it. Sitting here thinking about how my life was before isn’t going to change anything.”
Instead, Zoe has made it her goal to do all of the things she loves – even if she has to do them in a different way.
“You go from living one life to a completely different one,” she says. “I met a lot of people who don’t even leave their house. I still hang out with my friends and do the normal things a teenager does. That has helped my mental health a lot, going back to the things I was doing before.”
Zoe says that the support of her parents, sister, volleyball teammates, friends, and healthcare workers has been immeasurable.
“The biggest thing is I can’t really go anywhere by myself,” she says. “But my friends will always help me. My parents are super supportive. Nothing I’m doing am I doing by myself.”
As she enjoys her senior year of high school, Zoe is planning for her future as well. She is considering pursuing a career as a psychologist at a spinal cord injury hospital.
“Where would I be now if nothing had ever happened? I’ve made so many new friends,” Zoe says. “Obviously, I didn’t want it to happen, but I have gained a lot.”