As the University counts down to Commencement, UConn Today is featuring some of this year’s outstanding graduating students, nominated by their academic school or college or another University program in which they participated. For additional profiles of students in the Class of 2012, click here.
Four years ago, on April 19, 2008, senior Rob Freyer’s life nearly ended. That night at about 9 p.m., while driving his older brother’s car, he pulled out to pass a pick-up truck towing a boat on a road in Stafford Springs, Conn. He couldn’t pick up enough speed to pass, however, and instead crashed into an oncoming Chevy Trailblazer.
The next two weeks he spent in a coma in Hartford Hospital, unaware of his massive injuries – the worst included two broken ribs, two broken legs, a broken wrist, a head injury, and an intestinal tract shredded when a clutch pedal broke through his pelvis.
When he woke up, oddly enough, “One of the first things I did was run my tongue over my teeth to make sure they were there.” They were, but his memory of what happened that night was gone.
Four years and many surgeries later, as he prepares to graduate with an English major from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Freyer has completed a novel based on what he learned from the accident and its aftermath. Called Triumph, the story chronicles a young man’s painful recovery from a terrible car crash and the reactions of his friends, old and new, to his physical disabilities, such as a colostomy. It tells of struggles with depression, suicide attempts, and his eventual spiritual awakening on the eve of another serious operation to reverse his colostomy.
“I was crying the entire time I wrote it,” he says. Writing the novel has “definitely been a healing process.” He chose to write a novel rather than a memoir because of his memory loss, but he admits that the novel is closely biographical.
Depression was the most difficult challenge he faced after the accident, Freyer says. His girlfriend, who was in the passenger seat that night, suffered a broken leg and broken collarbone and was hospitalized for a month. (Drivers of the other cars were not seriously injured). She broke off their relationship, and his next few relationships were unsuccessful, too. He felt that he was repulsive to people, with a colostomy bag, lingering Tourette’s syndrome tics from the head injuries, and multiple titanium implants replacing his bones.
“I felt like Pinocchio – I didn’t feel like I was a real boy,” he says.
He didn’t recognize himself – 40 pounds lighter, long hair shaven off, unable to run like the track star he had been in high school in Wolcott, Conn.
“I had to work to create a brand new identity.”
And work he did. He returned to UConn the fall semester after his accident. He became an RA and an Orientation leader, joined the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, joined a fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and became vice president of Active Minds, which works to de-stigmatize mental health issues.
And he wrote. Two weeks before his colostomy was reversed, he wrote 80 pages of what became his novel, then put it aside for a year. This spring he finished it and began looking for an agent.
His wounds now completely healed, he plans to go to graduate school to study higher education administration. He wants to work in residential life with first-year students. And continue to write. His next book, he says, will be called Vacillation, and it will be about a character working through depression.
“I really learned a lot about love,” he says, “about dealing with my experiences and the trauma I faced.”