Miracle Meier: Softball coach returns to field two years after near-fatal crash
Cody Allgor | Staff Writer
March 2, 2019. The day that Jenni Meier’s life changed.
On her way home at the end of that day, Meier’s car was struck by a semi-truck. Taking four jaws of life to free her from the wreckage, she was eventually air-carried to University Hospital and transferred to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.
The list of injuries Meier incurred in the crash included 20 broken bones, a ruptured diaphragm, ruptured spleen, a lacerated liver, collapsed lung, compressed heart, aortic aneurysm, and a major head injury. 80% of people do not survive after suffering the aneurysm — let alone the rest.
Despite the odds, Meier survived.
It has been just over two years, and Meier has returned to her former position as an assistant coach for Mason softball. As she looks back on that Friday evening, Meier said that she doesn’t remember many details, and, for that matter, doesn’t want to.
“I feel like, by the grace of God, I don’t have a recollection of what or how things happened that night,” Meier said. “I do know that it was a Friday and I went to work and then later had dinner with a friend. I know that I was on my way home when the accident happened, but I don’t remember anything hours prior to, or anything about the accident. I’ve kind of moved on, and I don’t look behind and try to figure it out.”
Meier was in the hospital for just over three weeks recovering from her life-threatening injuries. She said that the rest of the Mason softball coaching staff — specifically Head Coach Liann Muff and Assistant Coaches Katie Wolf and Dave Bell played a large part in her recovery process, preparing meals for her and her family and relaying her health updates to anxious players and concerned members of the community who had come to know her as both a coach and a friend.
Muff clearly remembers those 22 days she and her assistant coaches spent by Meier’s side in the ICU.
“[Bell] and I would go and sit with her family in the ICU waiting room every night after practice,” Muff said. “The first few times I saw Jen, she was unconscious and on a ventilator. It’s hard to explain because while her body looked and was so broken, you could still tell Jenni was in there fighting. We would tell her about practice and what we’re working on. What was going well, where we were struggling, and why we needed her back so badly.”
Meier never gave any clear indication that she could hear those nightly conversations with the coaches — until she did.
“The first time I saw her awake, it was such a relief but also difficult because she was in so much pain,” Muff said. “When I told her about practice that day she closed her eyes and a tear rolled down her face. I knew it meant a lot to her that we were there and that we needed her to get back to us. She didn’t have to tell me she would return. I knew she would. It was something I told her every time I saw her in the hospital.”
Even after being released from the hospital, Meier still had a long road to recovery. She had to
start from scratch and relearn basic functions. Meier, however, did not want to stop at the basics.
“I wanted to be able to return without too many limitations,” Meier said. “I’ve done a lot of physical therapy, occupational therapy, where I had to relearn how to talk, walk, swallow, eat. Now I do have some limitations, I still have a fractured leg actually, but I do my best. I just love coaching and teaching. I like to demonstrate things, and I’ve trained so players can see what I’m asking them to do, at least partially.”
Senior Sydney Carter was playing on varsity as a sophomore at the time of the accident. Carter said that she recalls the first game Meier attended post-accident and could tell in that moment that Meier was going to complete her comeback.
“There was one game where she came to visit a couple of months after her accident,” Carter said. “She was in the wheelchair and she was all cut up. You could just see the fire in her eyes watching us out on the field. And I think that’s when I knew. I knew, ‘she’s going to come back.’ This is what she loves. She loves coaching.”
Only two years after an accident that could’ve ended her life, Meier has returned to the softball field to help coach the Mason team. Even though she thinks sometimes about taking care of herself, she said that she believes that she is there for a bigger purpose.
“I could easily, and in some cases, maybe should set my limits as far as taking care of myself,” Meier said. “I feel like this happened to me for a good purpose. I feel I wouldn’t be fulfilling part of my purpose if I wasn’t still active and doing what my strength is: to reach other people.”
Meier wasted no time returning to her purpose. Her accident had granted her a platform, and she was ready to take advantage of the opportunity. She has already spoken in front of churches and groups of young athletes and said that she hopes that those opportunities keep coming.
“I am trying to get out there to utilize the platform [of my accident] more,” Meier said. “I’ve prayed about it, and I know opportunities will present themselves to share my message, continue sharing my story, and help other people.”
Meier’s lessons have hit home, especially for Carter this season, as the four-year Varsity standout and Butler University softball commit will be sidelined due to an injury. Carter said that Meier connected with her personally after learning that she would be unable to take the field this spring.
“Just a couple of days ago, I found out that I tore my labrum and I’m not gonna be able to play this year,” Carter said. “Coach Meier is a coach that genuinely cares for all the players and not just for softball. The first thing she said to me was, ‘how are you? I want to make sure you’re okay, how are you?’ And that speaks volumes about her character. The first thing she is upset about is not ‘Oh, she can’t play the softball season.’ She is worried about the person.”
Despite a two-year absence, losing only one season due to the pandemic, Meier is grateful — both for her health and the gift of another season. While she hopes to help the Comets capture another GMC championship, Meier said that she is just grateful to be able to coach and inspire young athletes regardless of the outcome.
“I am so excited this year,” Meier said. “If I had to sum it up, I’m just grateful, grateful for the opportunity to continue to do what I love and to help young athletes continue to grow. Grow their character, grow to be stronger and learn how to overcome challenges. To always move forward, in whatever you are doing.”