Lewis Edmonson: Going from devastation to inspiration

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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) -- Things happen in life that at the moment break you down, but in time can inspire you and possibly others.

Such is the case for Lewis Edmonson.

The Caldwell native and current Rockdale boys head track coach was in a car crash 19 years ago that claimed the life of four of his teammates and sent him to the hospital.

But that initial devastation eventually turned to inspiration and led Edmonson to the life he lives today.

A dark night in rural East Texas still pops into Lewis Edmonson's mind nearly two decades later.

"I have my moments, time by myself, different things that I see that are affiliated with the accident. Even if I see an accident I'll take myself back there in a blink of an eye," Edmonson says.

That night he lost four close friends and nearly lost his own life, let alone his track career.

After a stellar career at Caldwell High school that included a trip to the state track meet, Edmonson decided to continue his track career at Prairie View A&M, where he ran multiple events and even played football one season.

Edmonson had a top five time in the nation in the 60 meter hurdles his junior season before straining his hamstring in the 200 in a meet at the University of Houston. Instead of sitting out or going back to a stacked meet at U of H the next week, he and his coach, Hoover Wright, decided he should go to a smaller meet at Arkansas-Pine Bluff to keep in rhythm. He and nine others were in a van on the way to that meet in February of 2000 when the accident occurred.

After swerving twice to avoid a car in their lane, the top heavy van carrying the Panthers flipped over.

"It was a very uncomfortable feeling," Edmonson remembers. "Out of control. So I just did the only thing natural and just grabbed. I didn't know what I was grabbing or why I was grabbing it, I just grabbed a seat belt. It kept going into an uncomfortable state and then we came to a stop. We were in a ditched area, embankment of a ditch area and I remember kicking out the window to get out. All you can say is it was uncomfortable. That's the biggest word I can think of because you've never been put in that situation before. I remember just trying to go friend to friend telling them, "We're going to be alright, we're going to be alright," not knowing the severity of the situation at hand. I still couldn't find anybody. I remember one of my buddies yelling out in agony and pain and we didn't know. It was so dark out there."

Edmonson ended up in the hospital with a severe neck injury, but he was lucky compared to four of his Prairie View track and field teammates. Houston Watson, Jerome Jackson, Samuel Sturns, and Vernon James died that night while Edmonson and five others survived.

Edmonson lost his friends, and he also thought he'd lost everything he had been working for at that point.

"I worked this hard and in a blink of an eye it was gone. That kind of set on a little depression phase and fighting back a lot of mental block. "Give it up," there's no way I'll get back to that point from the broken neck that I have now."

But he did bounce back. Thanks to hard work with his trainer Doc Mayes, Edmonson returned to form and then some.

"It was such an emphasis to just get back. I worked a lot of long hours to get there."

Edmonson would go on to exceed where he was before the accident, helping the Panthers 4x100 relay team finish fourth in the nation in 2001 and setting school hurdles records that still stand to this day.

"But it was such a sigh or relief to get back to where I was because I never thought that would happen again. But I worked my tail off to get back to where I was and I was so happy and so relieved that I could do that. It meant a lot."

Now 19 years later after stops coaching in Dime Box, Snook and Hearne, Edmonson is in Rockdale, where he uses his own story to help the kids on his team.

"There's nothing that I've seen that a kid goes through that you can't recover from or you can't go back from. You have to keep your will strong. You have to keep fighting. You have to keep working because it's all doable. It just helps me coach. It keeps the passion alive to see kids go through different things. I've always been a pointed guy to handle those types of things and I feel comfortable doing it with the things that I've been through."

Edmonson is still coaching this season, as his Rockdale boys 4x100 meter relay team of Cam'Ron Valdez, Will Storey, Quashon Crawford, Kesean Raven, Ethan Huges and Levi Baggerly will run at the state meet in Austin Friday evening.