Refusing to Quit: 10 years of healing after the Bluffton bus crash

BLUFFTON, OH (WTOL) - Tim Berta walks down a busy hallway at Summerfield High School and is greeted by student after student.

"Hi Mr. Berta!  Hey Mr. Tim," they call. One girl gives him a hug.

Ten years ago, Tim Berta couldn't walk at all, at least not without help.

His brain had been severely injured in the Bluffton University bus crash in the early morning hours of March 2, 2007.

Bluffton's baseball team was bound for spring break in Florida where it would play baseball games.

When he first returned to Ohio that spring, Tim wore a protective helmet. Part of his skull had been surgically removed to relieve pressure on his injured brain. And he didn't speak.

Ten years later, this is how he describes the place he was trapped inside his brain.

"You know that moment when you first wake up in the morning and for that half-second you don't know where you are or what's going on?  I had that but mine didn't go away," Tim recalls.

One year after the tragedy, which took seven lives including five Bluffton student-athletes, Tim says he was told by neuropsychologists that he had plateaued.

"That I was done. That I'd never drive, never graduate, never learn anything new, the rest of my life."

But Tim kept working, earning his degree in biology from Bluffton two years after the crash. He would later add a Masters of Organizational Leadership degree from Sylvania's Lourdes University.

Yes, he has surrendered some of his dreams, among them, his dream of becoming a nurse anesthetist. But now he regularly finds himself in the classroom as a substitute teacher in the Summerfield schools.

And yes, he drives.

Earning the necessary certifications for the job was a "pain in the rear end," according to Tim.  He then adds, "but not as much as learning how to walk again.  Or not as much as learning how to drink water again."

At Ida High School and later at Bluffton, Tim Berta was a standout, two-sport athlete.

He says he really misses competing even in a pickup basketball game or playing a simple game of catch with a baseball.

"I can't do those things and I really miss those things."

As for the crash that changed the path of his life, Tim has no memory.

He tells WTOL11 that, "I remember nothing about the date of March 2nd 2007, but it is a date that I will never forget."

Tim recently joined the fellow survivors of the Bluffton baseball team bus crash in being inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.

Like so much of Tim Berta's story, the path to this place of honor took a tough, circuitous route. He says had someone predicted that he'd be in a Hall of Fame, he would have thought, "Well, then I'm going to have to work really hard. I didn't think I'd have to work this hard."

And while his hard work has paid big dividends, Tim Berta still has some unfinished business.

He says he'd like to write a book about his experiences and to visit people hospitalized with brain injuries to tell them, "It's not a death sentence."

Beyond that, his future dreams sound not unlike a lot of other people.

"I want to be normal again," he says.  "I want to live life fully alive, as one of my friends from Bluffton once said. I want to date girls. I want to get married. I want to raise a family. I want to do all those things I've dreamed about since high school."

When you realize how Tim has repeatedly beaten the odds, you really don't want to bet against him especially when he tells you, "Quitting is unacceptable.  Quitting is not who I am."

And Tim Berta has a decade of proof to back-up those words.

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