Completely Broken – The Amazing Story of Coach Gary Weller

The following is a true story and an excerpt from my book, Redefine Rich.

Gary Weller has every reason to pin blame. He was an active, athletic man, full of life and energy. The majority of his adult life was spent engaging his passions, football and people, earning him the affectionate title of Coach. Coach was well-known and well-respected in his community, as he spent fourteen years running the sideline, coaching his players as the head football coach of Pine Forest High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

On April 14, 2004, a beautiful spring day, Coach dropped his car off at the mechanic and decided to jog home. This was a common practice, something he’d done numerous times before. Even at fifty-five, he remained in great physical shape; a quality that would likely save his life.

Donning a blue windbreaker, he set off on the four-mile trek that would lead him home. Despite the opposition from his wife and his mechanic, who both offered to give him a ride, he carried out his plan.

Coach was a very alert runner, always assessing his terrain. As he ran that day, he noticed a utility van making a U-turn in the parking lot to his right. As he passed by, he was unaware that this particular city utility van was stolen and driven by a deranged man intent on running down men, using the van as his weapon. Coach was his next victim.

Moments later, Weller was hit from behind as the driver veered some thirty feet, intentionally striking his victim and dragging him over a hundred feet underneath the van. As the tire marks across his blue windbreaker would later testify, the driver backed over his motionless victim before speeding away. Slipping in and out of consciousness, Coach knew death was certain.

The attack left Weller with fractures too numerous to count. First responders would later comment that the physical condition of his body was unlike anything they had ever seen; he was almost unrecognizable. Weller would be resuscitated four times before being airlifted to UNC-Chapel Hill Hospital, where he would lie hopelessly unconscious, comatose for thirty-five days. His wife, Cathy, would later say that those thirty-five days were the most difficult of her life.

Miraculously, and despite tire marks across his chest, Coach suffered no spinal cord injuries and no permanent brain damage. Yet, in his own words, he was completely broken. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken. As he awoke from his coma, he became aware of his grave condition.

Coach admits, “I was mad; this wasn’t my vision for my life.”

Determined to talk to everyone on the scene, Coach began asking questions to better grasp the situation and discover some measure of understanding. In those conversations, he realized the only understanding was that he should be dead. In fact, the next victim of the deranged driver tragically bled to death on the scene. Gary Weller shouldn’t be alive.

Coach Weller spent over two years on his back recovering from his wounds, which left him but a shadow of his former, physically fit self. Actually, the physical condition his body was in at the time led to his ability to battle back from his brokenness. Two years spent lying on your back gives you plenty of time to think, plenty of time to become bitter. However, Coach chose a different path. He understood he was broken for a reason.

Weller’s physical brokenness was unmistakable. Through remarkable surgeries, his body was able to heal, and although he was limited physically, his body was not crushed. Neither was his spirit. His spiritual and emotional brokenness could have yielded a bitter, broken man. However, he made a choice—a choice to respond. During the capital murder trial, Coach verbally forgave his attacker.

How is that possible? How could he forgive?

In his own words, Coach said, “I refused to be bent up with bitterness.”

He understood that forgiveness was a necessary tool in repairing brokenness.

Without forgiveness, wounds cannot fully heal, as forgiveness is the catalyst for the healing of the spirit. Without forgiveness, anger secures a foothold. If you’re not careful, it will make a home in your soul, crippling it for eternity.

Weller, now sixty-five, is ten years removed from the tragic events that forever shaped his life. He is bound to a wheelchair, only able to stand with the support of a walker, but he doesn’t let his physical ability limit him. He travels locally in eastern North Carolina, speaking to groups with empowering words, a story that shapes lives, and mottos like, “A bad attitude is like a flat tire; you’ve gotta change it if you want to get where you’re going.”

In short, he coaches them. He uses his brokenness and healing to heal the hearts of others.

I recently had the privilege of hearing Coach speak, and then the opportunity to interview him as part of my journey to understanding true richness. In our time together, he shared these words from Garth Brooks’ beautiful song “The River.” It was these words that encouraged him as he recovered:

“There’s bound to be rough waters and I know I’ll take some falls But with the good Lord as my Captain I can make it through them all”

As you walk your path to healing, and as you wrestle with forgiveness, amazing things will happen. You will be given opportunities to heal those wounds in ways you would never imagine.

A few years after his recovery, Coach was attending a class reunion for his son. His story preceded him, and one of his son’s classmates was actually the wife of Weller’s attending surgeon in the ER the night of his accident. The surgeon had not planned on going, but he heard Coach would be there and wanted to meet him himself. As the ER surgeon approached Weller and told him who he was, both were overcome with emotion. As they hugged and wept, Coach simply said thank you through his tears.

The ER physician looked right into Weller’s eyes and said, “Don’t thank me; I just do God’s work.”

Rich words indeed.

Abraham Lincoln once said:

“I’m not concerned that you have fallen, I’m concerned that you arise.”

Gary Weller reminds all of us that being broken isn’t about staying down, it’s about healing–it’s about rising.

MH

In honor of Coach Weller, we have committed to donating four dollars from every book sale to a  scholarship in his honor at Pine Forest High School that will recognize a senior student who has overcome great adversity.

Find out more, here

Redefine Rich

Redefine Rich

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  • An inspiring story of forgiveness and a winner Matt. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hey Stan – Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. Gary’s story floored me! Thank you for commenting and sharing the post! Have an awesome day!

  • We are blessed to be friends of Gary and Cathy Weller and we can tell you from up close, that this man is a gift from a loving God. Gary’s journey is one of pain and courage and determination. Cathy’s journey is one of anger and fear and devotion and pure love. We are better for knowing Gary and Cathy … and we are so thankful for both of them.

    • Gwen – I can’t thank you enough for sharing. The moment I met Gary and heard his story I knew how much of a blessing he was not only to me but to everyone he encountered. I’m so thankful to be able to share his story and hope that its awesome power continues to reach the hearts of many people! Thank YOU!

  • Debbie

    This story is definitely the Bible being lived out that I am sure has already led many to Christ! I love stories like this. It reminds me of the saying we have all have heard, ” You may be the only Bible that someone ever reads.” This is what Jesus was all about!

  • James Johnson

    Matt, I knew Coach at Pine Forest. I was in the class of 82. He was and is an incredible man to have come as far as he did after this tragedy. I saw him for the first time in 30 years at the Cape Fear/Pine Forest game last Friday and he was looking good. I praise this man for what he has been through, is still going through, and for how he has handled it since. He has always been an inspiration and always will be. ….You see, he was my coach in 1980 when I first came to Pine Forest and when I got injured, my season was over with and so were so many other things…..I thought. Coach sat with me and set me straight and talked me into doing so many other things and named some other options that I had not thought about. Without that inspiration, there is no telling where I might be today. We had another talk at the game the other night, except this time, I thought I would try and motivate him. I told him of my accomplishments and successes, but I could not help but to thank him again, because he guided me in the right direction. Thank you for sharing this story about him and to let him know he will never be forgotten. Love to the Coach!

    • James – Incredible story! Thank YOU so much for sharing! Coach’s story has life saving and life changing power and I’m honored to keep its legacy going! Continue to honor him in how you live!

  • Terri (Recard) Byford

    Such a great man! Was lucky to be a student back in the early 80s. God Bless You, Coach Weller!

  • Cathy Weller

    Matt,
    I am really enjoying your blog. Thank you so much for the beautiful story you wrote about Gary. I’ll have to admit that I had a lot of anger and questions for God. Gary is my life partner and how someone could hurt another person deliberately and cause total devastation for our family was beyond me. For the six weeks that I sat in the ICU waiting room I was surrounded by families with their own tragedies. Half of the room was filled with that same anger that I had. They had hearts full of fear and hate and Jesus was no where near. The other half was a group of people with some sort of hope and peace no matter what the outcome. I decided I didn’t want to be full of bitterness, I wanted to be part of the other group who had peace. My heart started to change and my prayers changed too. When Gary finally started to speak I knew immediately that he was not filled with anger. He was full of determination, and all the things that I had worried about (like how was this guy going to deal with the physical disabilities when he’d always been a jock) was just a waste of time. He fought to get better and didn’t get that anger in his heart. I believe that forgiveness is contagious. The more Gary healed and had that peace that comes with forgiveness the more his family and the people around him healed. Kind of like he could forgive why couldn’t we? I believe that is what Jesus intended for us to do. Until you do, the peace is absent and the anger consumes us. Gary is an incredible example of God using something horrible for His glory and His kingdom. It changed our lives, and brought us to The Lord more powerfully than anything could have. He is an incredible man and I am blessed to have been married to him for the last 43 years. Thanks for sharing his story. I can’t wait to read your book!!

    • Cathy…

      I’m speechless and blessed to read your words – you guys are amazing…simply amazing!

      Don’t be surprised if you see these words on the blog soon! They demand to be read…

      God bless!

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  • Matt,

    Loved this post. What an encouragement Coach is, and now you can share that story with others. You’re right we have a choice we can make. We all get that choice. I have seen people go to their graves with bitterness still seething out of them. I have seen others turn away from God because the circumstances they were dealt were so difficult. God is good. He can’t be anything less than good. How foolish we are to turn to anyone but Him.

    • Anne it is so true and refreshing when we learn to rest in his provision, even in the valleys of brokenness!

      James 1 and Romans 5 give us pictures how how to respond in times of trouble. Challenging, yes. Rewarding, absolutely.

  • Judi Fox

    Beautiful story! Thank you so much for Coach and you sharing this story together.

    • Judi the moment I met Coach, I saw his story playing in my head. To have his blessing to write about it was very special and I treasure his friendship and testimony. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  • Daryle Elliott

    Good Man and motivator. Taught me to “Explode”. He would hold two connected wood blocks in both hands, then clap together while yelling “explode”. I was squatting 370lb even though I weighed 135. Made us laugh and motivated us at the same time.
    Wish him the best.

    • Awesome story Daryle! Simply great! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Valerie Long Reynolds

    I was a student athlete at PFSH & graduated with the Class of ’81. Coach Weller coached our track teams, and was always a positive influence to us all. I was heartbroken when I heard of his accident, and even though I haven’t seen him in many years, I know what a positive & determined person he is. I caught up with him online several years ago, and for most of my adult life I carried several regrets along with me. Coach was so nice, encouraging me to let the mistakes of my past go, to just “live”, & move forward without worry. Thank you for sharing Coach’s story! Coach, you are an inspiration to us all!!

    • Valerie what a continued tribute to this man’s legacy! I’m so grateful for you sharing with all of us today and I know Coach is as well. Do stay in touch as you will hear, see more from Gary’s story very soon!

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  • I am coming across this barely two hours after getting some very bad news; the kind, in Gary’s words that get you mad, and isn’t anywhere near my vision for my life.” that will largely change all aspects of my course in the next 5 years. The encouraging thing is that I have been at this very point before, back in 2012. Some tragic news I got then, altered the entire course of my life. I compare this piece of news with the one I got in 2012 and one thing is for certain; when I go home tonight from work, I will be able to sleep through the night and by the end of this week, I will have adjusted and moved on from this present setback.

    So I am not bitter right now, I am largely discouraged. Even in the discouragement, I can hear the wheels in my brain running, already working on alternative plans and the steady beat of my heart that seems to say, “This too, shall pass.”

    • Warhia –
      I am so glad your found this and stopped by. Coach Weller’s story has been an inspiration to many and I’m so honored to be able to share it here and in my book.

      My prayers will be with you.

      On another note, I received a diagnosis this year as well http://www.mattham.com/cancer

      Blessed to walk a kindred journey.

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  • Glad you shared this one, such a inspirational story. . Enjoyed it just as much as I did in the book. Keep inspiring Matt!

    • Thanks, Charles! Gary is simply amazing!

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  • Louie Subirats

    Cathy, is your husband the same Coach who coached at Cooper City High School in Florida back in the 1970s? We are trying to contact him reference a fellow coach of his back at CCHS, Coach Tom Sargent. Please advise. Louie Subirats, Miami, CCHS Class of 1977