Unbroken: Family uses tragedy to support each other, defy the odds

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

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

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

While they still have their moments of sadness, for Brock and Elliott Mealer, in the 10 years since that horrific night, they say 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," Brock said. "But I also just feel like there's so many more happy memories than there are sad ones."

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

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

"I think what was 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." Brock explained. "It was a very unique and cool thing to be a part of."

Brock worked his way into being a part of that one percent.

On September 4, 2010, Brock alongside his brothers Elliott and Blake, led the Michigan Wolverines onto the field.

Since then, Brock walked down the aisle at his wedding. He walked across the stage at the Republican National Convention, and he's returned to working full-time as the operations manager of Pahl Concrete.

But he's not done.

Seven years later, Brock still has goals of some day running, not so much out of necessity, but instead, out of the will to continue defying the odds.

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

It's the game of football that not only played a major roll in Brock's physical successes, but it's also what Elliott attributes to 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 with Brock at Pahl Concrete.

But moving back brought him face-to-face with the intersection that has taken so much away from him and his family.

But instead of letting the tragedies keep its grip on them, over the past 10 years, the Mealers 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 and I think really developed and evolved. I still have massive plans," Brock said. "I've been speaking so much lately, and that's been 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 inspire them."

In 2016 Brock spoke at the Republican National Convention. 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 and I hope people realize how much that has meant to us," he said.

And although a lot of good has transpired since the accident, this past Christmas, on the 10-year anniversary of that night, like the nine before it, it's still a challenge.

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

"It definitely hasn't gotten any easier," Brock added. "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."

And just like it was 10 years ago, 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 that the people that have helped us through it. That was big."

While the pain is still there, in the past 10 years, the Mealers learned to keep pushing forward, staying hopeful for what's to come in their futures.

"For me that's the only way things have gotten better is to push, and to learn. If anything, my dad and Hollis, they don't have that opportunity. I do," Elliot 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."

"It's definitely been hard on all of us," Brock said. "But it's a blessing to be able to just see what our futures have become in that 10-year period."

As for their immediate future plans, Brock and his wife just moved into their new house, which is just a half-mile from where his mom lives.

He also wrote a book outlining his journey that he would like to get published, and as previously mentioned, continue his public speaking and working towards running.

As for Elliott, he continues to turn to his older brothers, Brock and Blake, for advice, as they have served as a father-figure 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.

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