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A lesson hard learned

Skinner talking about his accident to students.

Emily Kratzer, Classroom Manager of
For the News Virginian

“I should be dead.” At one point, that’s how Chris Skinner felt, after seeing x-rays of the car crash he was involved in. The Radford native went from an athletic college student to a near quadriplegic after a near-fatal automobile accident after a night of heavy drinking with fraternity brothers while in college.
The recent accident that claimed the lives of 44-year-old Waynesboro resident Sandra Martin and her 12-year-old daughter, Haylee Martin showed the cruel outcomes made possible by drunk drivers and their disregard for safety, especially of others. Kenneth Barber of Crozet was charged with two counts of DUI manslaughter for his role in the accident on April 20, which police said included running a red light before slamming into the Martins.
On Tuesday morning, students at Waynesboro High School got to hear what drinking and driving can do from a survivor’s perspective, as Skinner shared his story.
“Each and every one of our choices mold who we are today, and ultimately molds who we are going to become in the future,” Skinner told the students. “Each and every one of our choices can and will make a lasting impact on our lives forever.”
After the event, he shared more about his faith, his motivation and how he’s working to recover.
Skinner has been reaching out to high school students for 14 years, managing to speak to over a million students.
“It’s so rewarding, I can’t tell you enough. It ‘s a good life but it’s also a struggle to be confined to a chair and to live like a paralyzed guy,” Skinner said. “But I don’t feel like that guy. I feel like Chris. But every now and then you come to a curb cut that you can’t get over or people who are ignorant, they remind you of your position and being in the chair.”
Even after his accident, Skinner returned to abusing drugs and alcohol for another two years. One night while out with a group, he realized that he had to quit.
“I was out one night and some dude poured a bottle of vodka over my head, he was pissed off and I was drenched in vodka. I remember some guy came up to me and said, ‘you alright Skinner?’ When I looked up at him, he said ‘maybe you should go home’ and I was like yeah I should. I supposedly thought those people were my friends. The thing was, I had to get to a very low point when it came to friendship and love.”
A drive to improve
After becoming a Christian in 2001, Christ became his motivation and slowly but surely, he started to regain some movement in his arms.
“I couldn’t move either arm and then all of a sudden I got a flicker in my left arm and I got to a point where I would flip my arm over,” Skinner said. “My mom would flip it back and I would flip it over again and we just kept going at it. I went to Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center and wanted to see my x-rays from the accident. My doctor said they were one of the five worst they’ve seen. That moment cemented in my heart how grateful I am to be alive. When I saw that my head was literally like I was beheaded I was like, I’m so thankful to be alive, I need to start focusing on my life, I should be dead.”
One thing Skinner didn’t give up on after his accident was surfing. When he was younger he surfed so he knew he wanted to get back out there riding the waves.
“I’m sponsored by a surf company, which is crazy because when I surfed when I was younger I couldn’t get anyone to sponsor me,” Skinner said. “But he bought me this board and I wear a watch, when I push a button on it the motors come on in the board and I’m able to go out and catch a wave. I wear this life vest that theoretically will float me up if I fall so that I’m on my back. We get a certain amount of people in shallow, mid level, and deep levels of the water so that if I crash people are there to lift me up.”
Skinner also speaks highly about his son and daughter, saying that they light a fire in him and that they’re his everything.
“I feel like this was influential and beneficial,” said Waynesboro High history teacher Leonard Richards. “It’s good for students to hear that they aren’t entitled to anything, life could change in an instant.”
Other students and staff agreed that it was an important thing to hear.
“I can relate because there was a time where I went to bed not knowing if I was going to wake up,” said senior Camden Jarvis. “He said to live everyday like it was your last and that’s the truth.”
“You really can’t drink and drive, it can hurt you and so many others,” said junior Savannah Dobb.
“I thought it was very moving,” said Waynesboro High assistant principal Kendra Jones. “It reached a lot of people regardless if you’re a junior, senior, or even an adult. Anybody could learn something. “

A special thanks to the Office on Youth and the Students Against Destructive Decisions for sponsoring the event.
Becca Spencer, Sara Eldredge and Grace Dyer all contributed to this article

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