On a sunny December afternoon, Ron Nicolaye visited the spot where 37 years before his whole life changed.
In 1983 when he was 21 years old, Nicolaye went out for a night of celebration just before Christmas. He had come into Campbell River from his home in Tahsis to do a bit of holiday shopping and to go out drinking with some buddies. After hitting a few different bars in town, they decided to call it a night.
“We had a fun day of shopping and we went bar hopping that evening. We hit about three bars by the time we were done. I was pretty well hammered,” he remembers.
He got into the car with a designated driver, but some time on the way home, the drivers switched. Five minutes later they ran into a pole on the highway.
“I got into the passenger seat with a designated driver and they proceeded to find where I was staying. Well, being under the influence, I couldn’t tell them directions to where I was staying. After some time driving around, I am passed out. I didn’t realize the drivers were switched so the driver now was impaired,” he said. “We were on the road less than five minutes from what I heard and we hit a pole going highway speed.”
“It changed my life within a second,” he added.
The impact broke Nicolaye’s C5 and C6 vertebrae, and he was transported to a hospital in Vancouver.
“My body hurt so bad and I still didn’t know what happened,” he said. “My dear mom [was] beside me and said I will be OK. I guess she was trying to be strong for me to keep on fighting to stay alive. There were several x-rays and CT scans and the doctor came in and told me I was in a very serious accident and broke my vertebrae in two places. He said I would never walk again and that hit me like a hammer.
“My eyes teared full of water and my life [was] literally upside down. I was a 21-year-old who had everything going for me. It was supposed to be an innocent night out having fun. A tragedy hit not only my life, but changed the entire family forever,” he added.
“To hear the doctor say I would never walk again was a life changer for me. I didn’t want to live that life,” he continued.
Dec. 18 marks the 37th anniversary of Nicolaye’s accident. He has adapted to his new life, advocating for accessibility in Campbell River and talking about the dangers of drinking and driving, but the thought of what could have been still lingers with him.
“I just want to mention to anybody out there to be really careful throughout the holidays not drink and drive because serious consequences like mine can happen,” he said. “Please, I urge everyone to be very careful through the holiday season and always.”
“If I can change even one life, I would like to because I’m living proof of what could happen,” he said.