The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Local News

May 18, 2012

Andrea Vellinga inspires PHHS students

Stage collapse survivor, brother address student body

PENDLETON, Ind. — Her voice was shaky but her message was strong.

Andrea Vellinga, the Pendleton woman who was critically injured in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse in August, walked into a packed Pendleton Heights High School gymnasium and spoke to the students Friday morning.

Those two feats — walking and speaking — were among the everyday skills that she had to re-learn after the accident that left her in a coma for weeks. There were concerns that she wouldn’t be able to regain those abilities. But she has, and she continues to improve.

“We want to help you believe that nothing is impossible,” said Tyler Voss, Vellinga’s brother. “Anything you set your heart to… you can do it.”

Vellinga and Voss addressed 1,300 students and 60 faculty members — many dressing in Vellinga’s favorite bright pink color.

They spoke about the accident that left Vellinga with a crushed skull, the challenges she has faced, the support from the community, and what they have learned through the process.

“This is a story of hope, faith and courage in the midst of the hardest trials and deepest pains someone can experience,” Voss said.

But, the toughest times are often the best opportunities for people to show others what they are made of, he said.

A short video was shown to the entranced audience, showing footage of the state fair stage collapsing before Sugarland’s performance last August.

The video showed photos of Vellinga in her recovery process – from being in a hospital bed covered in tubes and bandages, to sitting upright with her daughter next to her, to wearing a protective helmet, smiling and giving a thumbs up.

Voss kept his arm around Vellinga’s shoulders throughout the video and patted her back in comfort.

Vellinga, who spoke with a shaky voice and often had to pause and dab her damp eyes, still showed her sense of humor. Her friends and family have always talked about how positive she is, even in times of uncertainty.

“I never imagined this would happen to me. Period. Especially at the concert of a band I liked — at the time,” Vellinga said, chuckling. “Well, I still like the music. ... But I’d rather not give (lead singer Jennifer Nettles) support like I used to.”

The pair also gave students advice about how to be nice to others, help each other out during tough times, and fight for what they want.

Vellinga, who on Friday wore her helmet and a big smile, encouraged students to believe in themselves, have the best attitude possible and to follow their dreams. She also advised them to go to college.

She told students that she went to college to play volleyball, and ended up getting a degree in communications — which has come in handy.

“It’s been great for me now,” she said, laughing, “with being on TV so much and having to speak to 1,300 people.”

Several students stayed behind at the end of the presentation to meet Vellinga. Many hugged her, held her hand and some cried with her.

Sophomores Lura Brown and Allison Boots got their photograph taken with her. They both play volleyball and will be on the team next year when Vellinga will serve as an assistant coach.

Brown, 16, said that Vellinga’s experience and how she had influenced others and how others have helped her has taught her “that something beautiful can come from something horrible.”

Allison Boots, 15, also a sophomore, said Vellinga and Voss were very inspiring. “It will motivate a lot of kids,” she said. “(Her situation) is tough, but it helps other people to know they can get through hard times.”

Find Melanie D. Hayes on Facebook and @MelanieDHayes on Twitter or call 648-4250.

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