Kelly Craig Schaefer’s amazing life story is now a book, “Fractured Not Broken.”
The 35-year-old former cheerleader from Jasper, Ind., survived a horrific accident in 1999 that left her a quadriplegic. She went on to become a fifth-grade teacher, marry a boy from Belleville and recently became mother to two 3-year-olds who arrived — after a three-year wait — from Africa.
“It’s pretty crazy,” she said of being a new mom. “We went from zero to 60. I think we are doing a good job at it. It’s trying, crazy and wonderful at the same time.”
Kelly and husband Shawn communicate with Emmy and Sam, who are learning English, through hand gestures. The kids give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on food.
“Peanuts,” said Kelly. “Honey-roasted peanuts.”
A story worth telling
Michelle Weidenbenner, Kelly’s aunt, convinced Kelly to tell her story. She wrote the book after innumerable conversations, texts and emails from her niece.
“She was the ghost writer,” said Kelly. “I OK’d everything. I’d say, ‘You know, Michelle, that doesn’t sound like me’ or ‘That didn’t happen that way. It happened this way.’ She had to know me better than I knew myself. When someone says, ‘Kelly, that sounds just like you,’ it’s the biggest compliment for my aunt.”
Kelly relied on Siri, an iPhone or iPad device that allows the user to talk rather than type messages.
“Siri types what I want it to. It’s been a gift. I was able to do it without a whole lot of energy.”
Michelle researched details that Kelly couldn’t provide. She tracked down EMTs, got trial reports and talked to Kelly’s parents.
“There were hard parts to retell,” said Kelly, who teaches language arts at a Catholic school. “Things that happened in the hospital. When I was on morphine, just out of surgery, my brain was just kind of foggy. ... For the most part, I have a really great memory. (The accident) is still real to me. Even though it’s been 16 years, it’s very fresh in my mind. What happens to big events is you remember them even though there are some you would like to forget.”
The 280-page book, which has 42 chapters, is billed a Christian memoir or biography. Kelly will sign “Fractured Not Broken” ($15, paperback) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, at The Abbey in Belleville. The book is available at The Abbey now, and online.
”The reviews, are so encouraging,” said Kelly. “People who don’t know me don’t have to write a review that gives it five stars, but they do. It’s humbling, Words have power. Stories have power, if you are willing to share them.”
Kelly also credits Shawn with making the book possible.
“If it wasn’t for his love and support, him coming into my life, I don’t know if this story would have been written. There are so many stories out there about adversity and people overcoming adversity. The amazing love story, that was all him. That’s what makes it unique. That’s what readers like reading, uplifting things.
“The beginning of the book is sad and tragic. ... I wondered, ‘Where are you, God? Why are you taking so long to bring someone into my life?’ I never really wanted to date someone when I was in a wheelchair. I always wanted to walk. I didn’t feel worthy. God kind of flipped that around. ‘I will give you someone who will love you just like you are.’
“I had to remind myself: This guy found you. ... I can’t drive, cut up food. He has to help me. How is this going to work? I would reassure myself that he knew what he was getting into. That would calm me down. It was pretty difficult at the beginning to trust a guy again, and open my heart up. It’s hard to be vulnerable.”
Shawn, a 1996 Althoff grad, felt a connection to Kelly years before he met her.
“I was in an accident when I was 16 and fell asleep at the wheel,” said Shawn, a CPA-turned-high school algebra and geometry teacher. “I am fortunate to have survived, I didn’t have a long-term injury. Kelly had a life-altering accident.”
He first saw Kelly on TV. She and her former boyfriend were interviewed on ESPN after the accident.
“I am a very sensitive guy,” said Shawn. “I saw her as a person whose world was flipped upside down six months earlier. I found it inspiring. She could have had negative answers about people. She took the high road. I wanted to compliment her, tell her how uplifting it was. Most people would recognize she’s beautiful on the outside. That wasn’t my motivation. I kind of wanted to tell her I was struck by the way she carried herself.”
They met in 2007 when he showed up on her doorstep.
“God had his hands in it,” said Shawn. “If we had met when I was first trying to find her — I was a senior in college. She was less than a year removed from the accident — I was not in a place to have long-distance relationship.”
Later, it was brought to Shawn’s attention that knocking on the door of a stranger at dusk was unusual.
“Anybody who would know Shawn, knows this is a very normal Shawn move, to be persistent,” said Kelly. “If he has his mind on something, he will do it, no matter what. If someone wins the state title, he writes a nice note and he doesn’t even know them. Maybe we think we should do something, but we don’t have time. You think about it, but never tell that person. He’s the person that always does. Anyone who knows Shawn, knows it’s not that crazy.”
Shawn’s family and friends stood behind him when he proposed to Kelly.
“Whom you choose to spend your life with is permanent,” Shawn said. “I had lots of great people around me, family, friends ... knew it was my life to live. I was confident, if people spend time with Kelly, it doesn’t take long to find her as endearing as I do.”
Kathy Schaefer, Shawn’s mom and a guidance counselor at Althoff, is happy for her son.
“He loves her so much and feels so lucky to have found her,” said Kathy. “I thought I knew Kelly's story but after reading the book learned so much more about what she went through after the accident. Her faith, her family and determination are amazing.”
Kelly and Shawn married on Sept. 6, 2009.
After deciding to adopt, they waited more than three years for the children to arrive.
“It was a very difficult process,” said Kelly. “A blessing was working on the book. It was such a distraction to the adoption drama we were going through.”
Excerpt from “Fractured, Not Broken”
I don’t remember what Eric (her boyfriend at the time) or I wore that day, or what we ate that morning, but I remember feeling invincible, freer than a kite in the wind, flying high in love, and looking forward to a new life in Arizona. We were young lovers, college kids, with the world at our fingertips, seizing opportunities that would take us places we’d never been, confident we’d have fun on our way.
But then everything changed.
For a long time after that day, I wished I’d died. How naive I was to have believed I was untouchable, that my cake life would go on forever.
Nothing was forever.
Book signing for “Fractured, Not Broken”
When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m Saturday, Sept. 26
Where: The Abbey, 5801 W. Main St., Belleville
Where book is available: The Abbey or Amazon, $15 paperback, $5.99 ebook.