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September 20, 2017

After being hit by truck, Professor Amy Pace finds strength(s)

One early April morning, Amy Pace looked down the street to see a Dodge Ram 2500 barreling straight toward her.

Her running partner yelled out to her, “I don’t think he’s stopping!” and milliseconds later, she was on the pavement. Her head gushed blood with a wound that would take eight staples and two stitches to close.

From the back of her neck to her thighs, her skin was a mangled mess of road rash. Though she never lost consciousness, she suffered a serious concussion and lost feeling in her arms.

“I remember thinking, ‘In an instant, I could die here on the street,’” she said.

Pace, an adjunct professor of English at Johnson County Community College, missed teaching the rest of that semester and cut her summer class load in half. Recovery has been long and difficult, but the strengths she identified at JCCC helped her through the healing process that continues today.

Using strengths in healing

She learned those strengths from a program called CliftonStrengths, which is offered free of charge to JCCC students, faculty and staff. Individuals complete a questionnaire that identifies their top five strengths from a list of 34 measured characteristics.

Knowing those strengths gave Pace insight into how she solved problems, and she leveraged that insight to get better.

She drew upon her Learner and Input strengths to gather information and ask her doctors tough questions. “I sought help even when it was uncomfortable to do so,” she explained.

Her Relator and Communication strengths allowed her to interact with healthcare workers and hence “I had a hand in the direction my recovery was taking,” Pace said.

Lastly, her Belief strength kept her spirits up and buoyed her in moments of despair. “I am very grateful to be alive. I really do believe that there is a God, and that he is looking out for me,” she said.

Gaining perspective in crisis

“Even before my accident, I joked, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ I would say that to my students all the time,” Pace said. “I didn’t know there were doctors who just deal with severe concussions, for example.”

You also don’t know by looking just what’s going on with a person, Pace said.

“One of the things that gave me a ‘hmm’ moment is people saying to me, ‘Well, you look good!’ or ‘I’m glad you’re better!’ as I healed. People didn’t mean that as dismissive. They were being complimentary and supportive, I know.”

But it irked her a little, since concussions don’t show. Pain isn’t obvious.  

“I had to look at these comments differently,” she said. “Now I always assume the best first, and realize that in the grand scheme of life, not all these little things matter.”

Moving forward

For her family, Pace’s accident “was unifying, but it was also a struggle. I tend to be a multitasker, and my kids dealt with the fact that Mom couldn’t do everything. We have to prioritize,” she said.

Pace has been teaching at JCCC for almost two decades. She said she’d rather be identified as “educator” than “accident survivor.”

“Not because I’m embarrassed,” she said. “I just want to positive. I don’t want the accident to define me.”

For more information on the Strengths Program at JCCC, contact the Career Development Center at 913-469-3870 or stop by SC 252.