Defining Strong: Janessa Sturtz on Surviving a Head-On Crash

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Defining Strong: Janessa Sturtz on Surviving a Head-On Crash

Anyone who has been around the Bodies by Burgoon for any length of time has seen this woman lift very heavy weights, and kick pads like no one’s business. Janessa Sturtz started training with Jason more than nine years ago and never left. Because she found family. Because WE found family in her.

She also works hard at her full-time job at UPS, she loves Northeast Minneapolis, her dogs, Halloween, and hanging out with Ben. And, of course, working out.

What many people don’t know about Janessa is that she is deeply passionate about causes close to her heart. And in this case, a cause that tangibly touched her life in 2014 when she was hit head-on on I-35W by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the interstate. And, as her gym family (her friends!), we are so thankful she is still here to not only tell her story, but share her life in a way that can change the lives of so many.

Tell us about September 5, 2014?

I was driving home from work on Friday morning, September 5th, 2014. It was 12:19am and I had just gotten on the 35W bridge. I was almost all the way across the bridge when, out of nowhere, my car came to a screeching halt and did a 180. I was so confused about what happened; I didn't see anyone in front of me. As I came to, I thought my car was on fire and smoking - turned out it was the powder from the airbags, but I didn't know that at the time. I tried to get out of the driver's side, but the door was wedged shut. So I climbed over the middle console and hopped out the passenger side. I looked to my left, which was now the oncoming traffic. There was a line of cars that had stopped in the middle of the bridge, thank God, and didn't hit me. I looked to my right and there was this other car. Smashed in and smoking. All I could think was "I need to get my phone...I need to call someone". So I sat on the passenger seat with my legs out of the door and ended up passing out. I woke to a couple of passers-by helping me up and seeing if I was ok. The one girl helped me to out of the area, across three lanes of traffic. As I was walking, I passed the other car; I noticed they were struggling to get the door open and it was very chaotic. Finally the ambulance's and State Patrol started showing up. They tended to the other lady first and finally a State Patrol came over and talked to me about what happened. He helped me to the ambulance and I was strapped in and taken to HCMC. Between HCMC and TRIA, I found that I had multiple broken bones: a cracked right fibula, left wrist, long bone in my left hand, two broken toes on my right foot, traumatic brain injury, concussion, bone significant bruising on my right foot, and significant bruising from the seatbelt.

How did the gym help with your recovery? 

I still believe that I am alive because of the gym and working out. After the crash, it was a slow and steady recovery, which I'm still in the process of. The consistency and support from the gym and its members were incredible. I couldn't workout for quite a while, but when someone else was going, they would come pick me up so I had some socialization, which meant a lot to me. There was a lot of PTSD, depression and pain that came after the crash. The gym kept me sane!

The gym, the friends I have there, the support I've received after my crash was amazing. I couldn't get anywhere, couldn't drive, and walking was a struggle with my boot and cane. I appreciated everything that the gym and its members did for me. I got a card signed by everyone, and some gifts. It was great!!

When did you begin working with MADD? 

I was approached by a friend/co-worker that had lost an uncle from a drunk driving crash years ago. He mentioned MADD and if I minded if he gave them my information. This was shortly after my crash. I got in touch with the best Victim’s Advocate, Diane Homa, and she helped me through the process. I then found out that there was a Walk. My first Walk Like MADD event was mere months after my crash.

What is your role now with MADD? 

I was asked to be the Volunteer Chair for the Walk Like MADD MN to help make Walk Like MADD 2018 (also worked on the 2017 event) successful, and to get the most out of the event.

How do you want to make a difference (with MADD)? 

Drunk Driving Crashes are 100% preventable. Unlike many other Walks and non-profit ventures, victims and survivors of crashes should never happen. I want to get the word out there that it is a bad idea to Drink and Drive. There are many other ways to get home or to the next destination. You think it won't happen to you...until it does! Just understanding that two out of three people will be affected by a drunk driving crash is crazy!

How has physical fitness and the community at Bodies by Burgoon affected your wellbeing — physically and mentally? How does it play a role in your life?

It's been incredible. There are ups and downs, but once you start, it's amazing. Your outlook on life is so much different and once you get into a routine, it's even better. I've made so many friends at the gym. Not just acquaintances, but people that I will be in touch with for many years to come.

Janessa, we love you so much and are so honored of to know you -- proud of who you are and what you do! And SO THANKFUL!

Related: Janessa's Early Journey with Bodies by Burgoon