Sunday, June 12, Ashley Gordon hopped in the back of a convertible to ride her way through the Albertville Friendly City Days parade as a candidate for Miss Albertville.
The emotions behind that seemingly simple moment weren't lost on the recent St. Michael-Albertville graduate, or anyone who knows her.
Gordon had traveled a long road from July 8, 2010 (exactly one year ago today) to that somewhat sunny Sunday afternoon.
The last time she was in a convertible, she nearly died.
The day didn't start well. She told her parents a lie.
"I told my dad that we were headed to a friend's cabin, and he lives near Annandale," Gordon recalled. "Really, we decided we were going to another friend's cabin, which was up by Crosby. I didn't think it would matter. Either way, we were going to be home at a reasonable time. It was just a longer drive."
Gordon headed north with friend Annie Michaud of Monticello, classmates Wayne Voss and Sam Papas, and Wayne's little brother, Mark.
"It was a great day. We played on the water. We went to a cabin about four doors down and used a rope swing to fly into the water. We just had fun," Ashley said.
But on the trip back from that cabin to make a stop at the Voss family cabin, Papas lost control on a curve. His Mitsubishi convertible, a present for his graduation, slid down an embankment, then rolled.
"None of us in the back were wearing seatblets, because we were only going down four doors. It was so quick. I just remember the car slipping sideways, and then it hit a tree," Ashley said.
The three passengers in back were launched from the vehicle. The car propped on its side against the tree, probably saving lives (had it rolled, it would have crushed at least two passengers). Gordon, who was knocked unconscious, woke up to see the car up the embankment several feet, then looked down.
"My hand was just hanging there. I thought it was OK, like it was just cut, but then it fell. I was screaming, 'I'm not OK!'"
But, she didn't cry.
"I was kind of proud about that. I didn't freak out. I remember the mosquitos were the thing that bothered me most," Gordon said.
A call was made to Voss' parents, and an ambulance met the teens on the road near Voss' house. She was transported to Brainerd, and then taken by ambulance to North Memorial in Robbinsdale, where doctors worked to save her hand. She also has suffered a concussion.
"It was wierd, because so many things had happened over the past four years that I had said to my mom that something bad hadn't happened that summer. I said, 'Something has to happen.' I had jinxed myself," Gordon said.
The crash was, indeed, one of several that impacted this year's senior class. Though Gordon was the only one seriously hurt, Papas carried a lot of guilt. Plus, it brough up memories of the crash that killed 2010 senior and friend Jon Kramnic, the ATV rollover that took the life of Annette Leuer and another crash that killed a Buffalo, Minn. teen.
All of those stories went into two pieces Gordon created her senior year, including the school's One Act Play, directed by Ashley's mom, Kristen.
“There’s a message about how to use our words, and how to live our life,” Ashley said. “You never know.”
“I know that it’s had an impact on our kids,” the Kristen said. “You learn to deal with loss at such a young age."
Ashley also created the piece, featured here, called "Accident," which she produced in her broadcast class last year.
"It earned an award from MEADA (Methamphetamine Education and Drug Awareness), so I was given some scholarship money," Ashley, who will attend South Dakota State University in the fall, said. "I think more than that, it was a way for us to share our story. You could see the pain in Sam's eyes when he did his interview. We, as a group, don't talk about it much. But he carried a lot of the guilt because he was driving."
So, in many ways, both the piece and the play were cathartic.
"I realize how lucky I was, and we all were. You don't fly through the air like that and usually walk away with just a hand injury. I always buckle now. And we all can see what a great responsiblity driving is. You think you're young and unbreakable. That can all change," Ashley said.
As for the punishment handed down for going to Crosby instead of Annandale? Well, Ashley's still living with it. She recenty had a third surgery on her hand. And last summer, while her family enjoyed the sand and surf on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina (an annual vacation spot), she sat out.
"I think my parents saw how hard the entire summer was for all of us, and they kind of figured that was punishment enough for lying," Ashley said.