Unbroken: Mealer family defies the odds ten years after tragedy

Brock Mealer (Source: WTOL)
Brock Mealer (Source: WTOL)
Brock and Elliott Mealer (Source: WTOL)
Brock and Elliott Mealer (Source: WTOL)

(WTOL) - On December 24, 2007, at the intersection of State Route 2 and Fulton County Road 19, two families' lives were changed forever.

A tragic crash that fateful Christmas Eve left the Mealers without their father and husband David, and the Richers without their daughter Hollis.

While they still have their moments of sadness, Brock and Elliott Mealer say in the ten years since that horrific night, their journey has been all about perspective.

"It used to be a little more emotional, more sad for me, but now it's kind of a time that I can go back and I can think of my dad and think of Hollis and try to think of the good memories," Elliott said.

"At times it seems like it was a lifetime ago because so much has happened and we've been blessed in so many ways, but I also just feel like there's so many more happy memories than there are sad ones," Brock said.

The accident crushed Brock's lower vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He was given a one-percent chance of ever walking again.

With the help of the University of Michigan football team's strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis, Brock worked toward his goal of beating the odds.

"I think a big part of what allowed me to do what I have done was seeing them performing at this high level and realize that I either had to continue to feel like I was out of place or I had to just kind of fit in and go through that training. It was a very unique and cool thing to be a part of," Brock said.

Brock worked his way into being a part of that one percent. And on September 4, 2010, Brock, alongside his brothers Elliott and Blake, led the Michigan Wolverines onto the field.

The game of football played a major role in Brock's physical success, and is what Elliott attributes as being a big part of his coping process.

"After the accident, I could never imagine playing football again. For me it was like, not only how could I play football, but why would I even care to play football again, there's so many more important things," Elliott said. "Ironically enough, I think football really helped me kind of get back into that different perspective that I could enjoy things again."

After Michigan, Elliott moved to Florida to train for the NFL. And just this past year, he moved back home and works at Pahl Concrete..

Brock has also accomplished many things since the accident. He walked down the aisle at his wedding. He walked across the stage at the Republican National Convention. He also returned to working full-time as the operations manager of Pahl Concrete.

But Brock isn't finished. Seven years later, Brock still has goals of running again someday. Not so much out of necessity, but instead out of the will to continue to defy the odds.

"As much as I would love to run again, I don't think it's something I need to have. I think it's more about continuing to do something that people say you can't do," Brock said.

Brock's move back home brought him face-to-face with the intersection that has taken so much away from him and his family. Instead of letting the tragedies keep their grip on them, the Mealers have worked to use their worst nightmare as a bright light for others.

"I definitely had big goals that I wanted to accomplish. And in some ways those have changed, really developed and evolved. I still have massive plans," Brock said. "I've been speaking so much lately. Part of my life's work is getting out and sharing my story and hopefully helping people that are going through struggles in life and hopefully inspiring them."

Brock spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2016. Since then, he's continued to do public speaking events, each one reminding him of how blessed he's been.

"I really am honored every time I get that opportunity, and it really just amazes me all the people that have been a part of our story that have helped us. I hope people realize how much that has meant to us," he said.

A lot of good has transpired since the accident. But the ten-year anniversary of that night, just like the nine Christmas Eves before it, is still a challenge.

"It's never easy around the holidays. It's just kind of a constant reminder. I'll hear Christmas music and can take you back to that moment, which is a bummer. But for me, I try to think of the good times," Elliott said.

"It definitely hasn't gotten any easier. I think that's something I share with a lot of people is that it doesn't necessarily get easier, but I know that I have gotten stronger," Brock said.

Ten years later, the community has continued to rally around them.

"I still have people that reach out to me on Christmas or Christmas Eve and around the holidays and say I'm thinking of you," Elliott said. "It's something I've always appreciated. The people that have helped us through it, that was big."

While the pain is still there, the Mealers have learned to keep pushing forward, and they stay hopeful for what's to come in their futures.

"For me, that's the only way things have gotten better. To push, and to learn. If anything, my dad and Hollis don't have that opportunity. I do," he said. "So it would be a waste for me not to pursue my dreams and to not step forward and try to pursue even though it's uncomfortable. I've just been very blessed to have great support with me," Elliot said.

For Elliott, he continues to turn to his older brother Brock and Blake for advice, as they have served as father figures to him since the accident. He took acting lessons in Florida, and next month he will be moving to L.A. to pursue his acting career.

As for Brock's plans, he and his wife just moved into their new house, which is just a half a mile from where his mom lives. He also wrote a book outlining his journey that he would like to get published, and will continue his public speaking and goal of hitting the ground running one day, literally.

"It's definitely been hard on all of us, but it's a blessing to be able to just see what our futures have become in that ten-year period," Brock said.

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