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Survivor: 'Make smart choices'

Volleyball star Sarah Panzau talked with high school groups from Kelliher and Northome who joined those from Blackduck last week to hear the 2003 accident victim. Panzau emphasized throughout her talk the need to make wise choices, to rise above the disabilities which occur in life and gave special emphasis to respecting one's parents.1 / 2
A spellbound audience listens intently to the horrors of drinking and driving and the consequences of bad choices.2 / 2

First they saw photos of the accident. Then the high school students from Blackduck, Kelliher and Northome were told details of the victim's injuries. Finally, there were audible gasps as one time volleyball star Sarah Panzau walked into the gym, her brief athletic uniform exposing what's left of the arm she lost in the crash.

Panzau was twice a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association Women's Volleyball All-American Team. Speaking to a gym full of area school students, Panzau described how poor choices trapped her in a pattern that caught up with her in August of 2003.

With a blood-alcohol level almost four times the legal limit, she decided to drive home drunk. She missed a highway exit, rolled her car four times, had her left arm ripped off, her jaw fractured in seven places and numerous other injuries.

The worst part, she told the assembled students, is when you do something like this, you have to face your parents -- you have to admit your mistake, you have to tell them you made a bad choice, that you didn't pay attention to what you'd been taught.

Panzau went through months of corrective surgeries, therapy and rehabilitation after the accident. She described it repeatedly as she talked of the physical and emotional pain in her life and the lives of those close to her.

Her appearance for the three high school groups was arranged by Andra Vaughn of Blackduck High. It was sponsored by Big North Distributing in Bemidji, the local distributor for Anheuser-Busch, as part of their campaign to prevent underage drinking and drunk driving at any age.