By Greg Parlier
When he regained consciousness he was face-down on concrete, unable to breathe because of the blood, teeth and gasoline that filled his mouth; his left jaw was off its hinge and he could feel that all the bones in his face were crushed. Pain was the only sense that remained.
That was how a trip to a professional hockey game with three friends ended for eighteen-year-old Marcus Engel after a drunk driver smashed into the side of their car at twice the speed limit, blinding him permanently. Now Marcus Engel inspires, enlightens and entertains audiences all over the country with his story of perseverance.
There were a couple hundred people in the Lazzara Theatre when Engel came to share his story with UNF on Thursday, Jan. 27. The Kappa Sigma Fraternity, ADA Compliance Office, Disability Resource Center (DRC), and College of Education and Human Services cooperated to help put on the event. Susan K. Gregg, the DRC coordinator met Engel, a brother of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, in Denver where he was speaking, and thought he would make a good guest at UNF.
“We (the DRC) do a Disability Awareness Event every year, and we wanted to do something different this year,” Gregg said.
Public Relations Senior and ex-Vice President of Kappa Sigma at UNF Levi Porter helped make Marcus Engel the perfect guest for the event.
Engel recounted the events of his life leading up to the accident in his speech, including his first six weeks of college at Southwest Missouri State and that Saturday night that changed his life forever in all the gory details.
But Engel wasn’t all gloom and doom during his speech. In fact, his humor was one of the most memorable parts of his presentation. He frequently broke off from the main storyline with “ADD stories” as he called them, referencing his own tendencies to get easily distracted. He would ask questions like “Who has ever gone through a strange phase in their life?” Then, after a short pause, he would ask, “Why would you raise your hand to a blind guy?”
Sophomore Business Management major Tony Ruscito called this his favorite part of the speech. “Marcus was very upbeat and had a great sense of dry humor. His jokes related to the student body, which made his speech very enjoyable to listen to.”
One of the main messages of the presentation was something Engel learned from his high school principal after hitting his car after football practice: “Change the things you can, don’t worry about the rest.”
This line, he said, helped him get through the 300 hours of reconstructive facial surgery that he underwent after the crash. He also got through it by setting his mind to a goal he desperately wanted to accomplish: getting back to college. He finally achieved that after two years of medical rehabilitation and recovery, six months at a rehab school for blind adults and a month of training with a seeing-eye dog.
It wasn’t all a bed of roses after he did get back to school, though. He was feeling very lonely and depressed when he was able to draw inspiration from a world-class poet, Bob Dylan.
My favorite quote from the speech was “negativity don’t do you no good,” said Freshman Andrew Coconato, which came from a line in one of Dylan’s songs.
Engel has published three books, including the autobiographical “After This… An Inspirational Journey for all the Wrong Reasons.” He also has a short movie out, “The Drop” that he hopes will one day be made into a feature length film. So he has come a long way from that scary night in St. Louis, and he says he has never had hatred for the drunk driver that took his sight.
“Hate is a wasted emotion because who does it hurt? Only me,” Engel said. After all, Negativity doesn’t do anybody any good.
You can learn more about Marcus Engel and his story at www.marcusengel.com. “The Drop” is available for free viewing at www.thedropmovie.com.