Blessing in the Lessons Learned

In spite of horrific bike-auto accidents in both their lives, Gonzaga employees share exemplary positive spirits as they continue to recover.

Matt Cornwell and Tracy Martin
Matt Cornwell (left) gets back to work on the grounds crew. Tracy Martin (right) loved riding her yellow e-bike to Gonzaga; she is currently rehabbing and looks forward to returning to work when the time is right.
December 05, 2023
Dale Goodwin ('86 M.A.T.) | Spirit Newsletter

Gonzaga Groundskepper Matt Cornwell and Senior Graphic Artist Tracy Martin have something in common: Gratitude that they are still alive.

Both sustained traumatic brain injuries when struck by cars while riding their electric bicycles, Matt June 30, 2021, on his way home to the Spokane Valley from work, Tracy Oct. 8, 2023, on a leisurely Sunday ride in her neighborhood.

Cornwell broke his clavicle, neck in three places and seven ribs on the heart side. Martin sustained multiple fractures in both legs above and below her knees, a fractured skull and numerous other injuries to her arms, neck and torso. The x-ray on one leg looks like the Eiffel Tower with a mixture of long rods and shorter pins holding it together. “My lower body is now built with titanium,” she laughs.

“I figure we all have hardships, and it is part of life, It just must have been my time. I don’t feel scared or sorry for myself. I WILL get better." - Tracy Martin

Cornwell can’t remember his accident. While not comatose, he was unresponsive for three weeks following his collision. Martin doesn’t want to remember her accident for fear of post-traumatic stress syndrome. But it doesn’t stop her from looking forward to buying a new electric bike and getting back on the road again.

But that will be a while.

After nearly a month in the hospital and rehabilitation center, Martin has moved home. She recently learned how to transfer from her bed to a wheelchair and back. She is strengthening her arms, while her legs will need “at least three months of healing” before she can start strengthening them enough to re-learn how to walk. She works out several hours a day to rehab her broken body.

Cornwell was out for six months before he was able to return to his work on a limited basis, Plant Services holding his job for him, for which he is most grateful.

“The mental recovery is harder than the physical recovery for me,” Cornwell says. “I’m 80% recovered physically, but recovering all my mental capacities in more of a challenge.”

“I’m closer to God now than I have ever been." - Matt Cornwall

He struggles sometimes to find the right words to say, and “I don’t feel like I’ve returned to the same person I was before the accident, and am often misunderstood. But I know God is healing me in His own way. I know He is changing how I think and feel for the good.”

Martin hopes to be able to return to work sometime during spring semester, but probably from home for several months before her legs allow her to walk again.

“I figure we all have hardships, and it is part of life,” she says. “It just must have been my time. I don’t feel scared or sorry for myself. I WILL get better.

“I am thankful for all of my friends and family who have come from everywhere to send me a note, visit and help (husband) Max and me out in so many different ways. I am grateful and overwhelmed by the friendship and support. As an introvert, I had no idea so many people cared about me.”

As Cornwell approaches his third Christmas season since the collision, he is filled with a spirit of gratitude for his life, his wife Marie, his five kids and their families, spending family time at Christmas, his job and this Gonzaga community.

Both are grateful for being alive to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones.

“I’m closer to God now than I have ever been,” says Cornwell.

“Everybody’s got a story to tell. I’ve learned it’s important to listen.

“My last day of physical therapy I was sitting next to a young fellow on a recumbent bike, his scalp shaved with cuts all over his head. It turns out he was involved in a bicycle wreck and he wasn’t wearing a helmet. A bare-head bounce on the pavement can change your life in an instant.”

So now Cornwell takes his accident as a message to tell kids to wear their helmets whenever biking, and to tell motorists to slow down, get off your phones, and be aware of everything around you. “Take it all in and don’t be in a hurry,” Cornwell says.

Martin concurs with all the lessons Cornwell learned, and adds, “Carry an ID with you at all times.”

Meanwhile, she looks forward to her return to work, and getting back to her favorite design project, Gonzaga Magazine.

Both are grateful for being alive to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones.

And with that they pass along to Spirit readers, “A blessed and merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all.”

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