On a rainy Saturday night in December 1992 sixteen year old Mike Wilkins had ended his late shift at the local pizza place he delivered pizza for and had followed his cousin home to get a broom. It was going to be a busy weekend. Mike and his family were moving out towards the county to the new house they had just finished building. Heading towards home Mike turned onto Winwood Street as he had a hundred times since getting his drivers license. Traveling too fast the rainy street became a danger zone when making a right turn caused his car to hydroplane hitting another vehicle head on. The impact caused Mike’s head to slam against his driver’s side window with enough force to shatter it into tiny pieces. Had he not worn his seat belt Mike would have not survived the the crash.  He was only several blocks from home.

Mike lay in a coma at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The waiting room filled nightly with family and friends, mostly from school, praying that Mike would somehow awaken and everything return to normal. Mike suffered a traumatic brain injury which was referred to as a “closed head injury” in 1992. Physicians were not sure how or if Mike would recover.

While stable but still in a coma Mike was moved to what was then the Northwest Arkansas Rehabilitation Hospital where he awoke from his coma. It had been three and a half months. By this time Mike had lost a lot of the muscle he had built over the years while taking up weightlifting and playing high school football. He had to learn everything over again from eating, walking, using the restroom, and tying a shoe. 

Everyday was a challenge for Mike as well as the family. As friends went on with their lives Mike was still on their minds, but for the family everyday life became hospital parking lots, hallways, and the thought of an empty teenager’s bedroom at home. However, Mike was steadily improving during his rehabilitation. One particular day Dr. Hurlburt walked into Mike's room and noticed Mike was on his bed. He had been in his wheelchair which was still sitting by the door. “Mike, who put you on your bed?”, Dr. Hurlburt asked. Mike answered the best he could that he did.  "But Mike, you can't walk."  Mike then stood up, and with everything he had in him, walked to his doctor.  Surprised yet overjoyed with Mike’s ability Dr. Hurlburt made a promise to Mike that the both of them would walk the hallways together once a day as long as Mike was still in rehab. And they did just that.

Mike was released from the Northwest Arkansas Rehabilitation Hospital and moved to the Timber Ridge Ranch, a cognitive training school-accredited rehabilitation center, in Benton, Arkansas where he would spend the next 9 months.  On Friday, September 11, 1993 Mike was invited to be the honorary co-captain for the Fayetteville Bulldog’s opening high school football game against Joplin, Missouri.  The game was played at the University's Razorback stadium and Mike was able to wear his number 45 jersey on the sidelines as his bulldogs went on to win 48-28.  Mike’s coach made it point not to use Mike as a motivational tool that night, but to treat him normal, as part of the team where he had played split end just a year ago.  With the help of a tutor Mike was able to finish 11th and 12th grade and walk on his own across the stage during graduation in 1994.  Life wasn’t over, it was just beginning.
 
Over the next few years Mike had several brain and eye surgeries to help shaking and vision problems from TBI.  Every step he took was a challenge as he had to build up muscle strength in legs and learn to balance again.  He returned to the Rehab hospital where he had awoken from his coma, but not as a patient, this time as a volunteer worker.

He still had a heart for sports and his nurses at the Rehab hospital had told him about the Special Olympics so he thought he would give it a try.  In 1998 he signed up for track and field and at his very first meet he won gold in the 1500 meter dash and took 3rd in the shot put.  Later a friend told him about a weightlifting division that had just started and that immediately sparked interest in Mike.  Traveling to North Carolina he won silver in the bench press, benching 175 lbs, won gold in the dead lift, and winning 1st overall.

The special Olympics took him to Dublin, Ireland for the 2003 World Games.  Mike won 2 gold medals and a silver dead lifting 345 lbs and bench pressing 175 lbs.  Bon Jovi was there for the opening ceremony.  In April 2006 he won more gold medals in both the bench press and dead lift for the Special Olympics held in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  In June 2006 he will travel to Iowa for a chance to compete at the 2007 World Games in China.

 
“People give up”, says Mike when talking about trying to recover from TBI.  “Always have confidence and keep believing in God.”  He has lasting affects from his accident, but won't stop him from living a normal life or doing day to day activities.  Mike’s mother, Mona, said in an 1998 interview as Mike was on the sidelines watching his high school football team win “Mike will never be the same ‘Mike’.  Every head injury brings out a different personality.  He appreciates things, people more.  He looks at life differently.  He’s finding something positive in the whole situation.”
 
Mike says he doesn't remember the year 1993 but he has a sharp recollection of friends from elementary to high school and life in general before the accident.  Mike said he often got frustrated when he had a difficult time at certain tasks where his body wouldn't respond the way he wanted it to.  Sometimes that frustration led to anger and depression. His car accident took a lot from him.  "If it wasn't for God I would have given up a long time ago" If he could go back in time to that rainy night in December 1992 he would.  He would make sure he slowed down on that Fayetteville street but he said he knows everything happens for a reason.  He dreams about playing football again.  He says that technology hasn't created a helmet that would protect a victim of TBI since a simple hit to the head could be extremely dangerous for someone who has had his injury.  His accident may have taken some things away from him, but it will never take away his dreams or goals, nor his future.