By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / director: Elie Khadra
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote, James Thorne
Editor: Beth Angus
Tiphany Adams, 35 from Lodi, California, is already on her second life. When she was just 17 years old, Tiphany was in a car crash where all four people, including herself, were pronounced dead on the scene by emergency services.
Medi-aired to hospital for 30 hours of life-saving surgery, Tiphany was given a five percent chance of survival.
In a coma for three weeks, Tiphany fought for her life. When she woke up, her father, who largely brought her up, had to deliver the news that Tiphany was a paraplegic, with a T10 fracture and L2 movement.
Tiphany told Barcroft TV: “When I woke up I knew that something was off, something was different. I couldn't feel my legs like I felt them before. They were numb and tingly. So I asked my dad: ‘Why can’t I feel my legs?’ And then he brought a wheelchair to the side of the bed.
“I could see the look in my father’s eyes and I knew he didn't want to even say it. He started to say: ‘Baby, God has blessed us with a miracle and that is your life. And if God blesses us with another one that will be you walking. If I could do anything in the world I would trade places with you in an instant’.
“I guess it’s an interesting dichotomy because it’s a story of tragedy but also triumph.”
Before the car accident, Tiphany had set her sights on becoming a model and actress; she had just landed a major role in her school’s Shakespeare production, cast for a Thriller remake and was due to be on the cover of a car magazine.
She said: “I thought – this is my big break. And life happens you know, and I am, very blessed to be alive but the car wreck certainly changed my path.”
Discovering she had a gift - and a passion - for public speaking, Tiphany now works as a motivational speaker; she has her own YouTube channel and participates in fitness challenges such as the Red Bull Wings for Life World Run. She is also a model and appeared in Reality TV show Push Girls – her dreams of being an entertainer may have been delayed but she has still managed to fulfil them.
Tiphany goes as far to say that she believes her paralysis has been a positive influence over her life, helping her to push herself and only strive for the best.
She said:“I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I wouldn’t have had the experiences I have if I were walking, so I miss it but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I wouldn’t go back.”
Having lived in LA for a decade Tiphany has returned to northern California and frequently drives past the crash site on the California State Route 12. Often referred to as ‘Blood Alley’, road signs read ‘drive to stay alive’ along the highway.
The night of the accident Tiphany had gone to watch a wakeboarding competition.
She said: “Everyone was celebrating. The event turned into a party. Everybody was dancing and jumping around. At one point the dock was sinking and I remember having to jump on my friend’s back to have a piggyback ride before the dock completely sank into the water.”
A chilly and foggy October evening Tiphany and her friend ensured their designated driver was sober.
Tiphany said: “My friend Crystal had called her friend to come and pick us up. So he drove to the event just to give us a ride.
“I got into the back seat. And something told me to click the seat-belt. I put the seat-belt behind my shoulder.”
It was this action, which ultimately saved Tiphany’s life – but it also caused her spinal cord injury.
Tiphany said: “The driver of the other vehicle proceeded to pass a semi-truck and then she passed one more going over the double yellow lines. And once she did that, she hit the vehicle that I was in the back seat passenger side of, traveling at a 130 miles per hour impact. And that is when we were all pronounced dead on the scene.”
The driver of the other car had been drinking and died at the crash site along with the two other people in the car with Tiphany.
She said: “I was in this black abyss for a while.
“I do know that my grandmother spent days and days getting the paint chips out of my hair because the hospital wanted to shave my head but she wouldn't let them.”
After waking up and learning she was a paraplegic, Tiphany spent two and a half months recovering in the hospital before she could go home – even spending Thanksgiving on the ward with her extended Italian family.
“They all brought food; my whole family basically lived in a parking lot with their RV’s. We had turkey, yams, green beans - the crunchy kind. It was a really great experience.”
The only survivor of the car crash, Tiphany admits she didn’t have any counselling or help with her mental health, at the time – something that had repercussions on the rate of her recovery.
She said: “I was the sole survivor of the wreck and that definitely added some pressure into my life. You feel guilty: why did I get to live? Why me?
“After the car wreck I didn’t get any counselling, I didn’t even do rehab I left early and I figured I’d do it on my own, that’s just the type of person I am and I think that I had struggled with major PTSD, but I didn’t understand what that meant and so I think that some of my actions were quite suicidal when I look back on it.”
Throwing herself into school, Tiph would party at the weekends and did “what everybody else was doing, which seemed to be drugs and drinking.”
But through fitness, Tiph found a pathway to full - both body and mind - recovery.
She said: “I started working out at a gym and I started working as a personal trainer.”
Interviewed by Red Bull about her extreme fitness, almost by accident Tiphany found herself competing in the Red Bull wings For Life.
“The last four years consecutively I have done the race and ended up first for California.”
Always looking for a fresh challenge, Tiphany is thinking of taking up wheelchair basketball and handbike racing. The fitness fanatic is also currently working with her boyfriend of one year, Skyler, on developing her YouTube channel.
She said: “Using a wheelchair for daily mobility is never boring, it’s never a dull moment. Even 17 years later I have still fallen out of my chair.
“The world is not fully accessible for people with disabilities. So now I’m going to use my YouTube channel “wheely famous” to see what’s its fully like going in and out of restaurants, different hotels - things like that.
“There I can show people what it’s like day in and day out.”
Tiphany’s path may have changed but her determination and resilience are testament to her many achievements.
She tells herself: “I never give up, keep going, you have got this, don’t stop, don’t fall out of your chair.
“Enjoy this moment because you could die tomorrow.”