For Brad Bigler, telling the story of July 28, 2012 will never be easy.
That is the day his son, Drake, just five months old, was killed in a car crash in Pope County, just two miles from their destination.
In fact, many believed Bigler had also died in that crash that was the result of an impaired driver making the decision to get into his vehicle and drive.
Bigler, the head men’s basketball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, was in Redwood Falls Sept. 25 to share his story with Redwood Valley High School students and to help them understand every decision they make has the potential to change their lives forever.
“The administration of this school, the school staff and the whole community cares about you. They are looking out for you,” said Bigler. “That is why I am here.”
Bigler said he never would have imagined becoming a public speaker, but he fells blessed to have the opportunity to get in front of people and encourage them to create a legacy.
Since the crash, Bigler has spoken to more than 20,000 youth face to face in audiences across the region. His story has been told locally, and through a feature in ESPN the story has been heard and seen around the world.
“How do you want people to remember you?” Bigler asked the high-school students pointing specifically to the senior class. “This is your final moment to leave a legacy. Some students do, and some don’t. You need to understand the impact you will make and the legacy you leave for those who follow you.”
That day in July the Bigler family had been at a wedding in Granite Falls.
Brad, his wife, Heather, their youngest son Drake, and Heather’s grandmother, Sharon Schuler, were on their way to a lake cabin. Two other children had stayed behind with other family.
It was 9:20 p.m. when a 2005 Dodge pickup came into view at the intersection of Minnesota Trunk Highway 29 and Pope County Road 41. Behind the wheel was Dana Schoen who was driving drunk (his breathalyzer indicated a blood alcohol content more than four times the legal limit).
“We need to tell this story,” said Bigler, who said one night at the supper table he was asked by his son, Nash, why he talked about it. That was the answer he gave him. “This is a story that has to be told.”
No, sharing it is not easy, but if it makes a difference in the lives of others, if it makes people think before they make bad decisions then his time is worth it.
Bigler said the account of that night which he shares comes through the eyes of his wife, because he was unconscious. She was the one who held their son as he took her last breaths. She was the one who first learned the driver of the other vehicle had been drinking. She was the one who saw it all.
“We are all going to have to process loss in our lives one day,” said Bigler.
Bigler also talked about the loss of his mom during a kayaking trip. During the trip his mother ended up trapped underneath a tree. The next few moments, recalled Bigler, were three or four of the longest, most helpless minutes of his life.
“That was the last time I saw my mom’s eyes open,” he said.
Thirteen months later, Bigler lay unconscious unable to wake up to say goodbye to his son.
“All of this could have been prevented if one person doesn’t drink and drive,” Bigler told the students.
Yet, he added, there is more to the story.
The impaired driver had been drinking all day.
“His buddies on the lake knew how much he had to drink, and they didn’t step up and stop him,” said Bigler, adding he also went home and his wife, who knew he had been drinking did not stop him, nor did the people at the bar where he had stopped to finish off the night.
Bigler told the students, especially the seniors who one year from now will be in college away from Mom and Dad, that they have to make good decisions when no one is watching.
“Things can happen fast,” said Bigler, adding both good and bad decisions can have an impact not only on the person making that decision but a host of others.
His family was impacted forever by the bad decision a man named Dana Schoen made.
Bigler said he is not looking for sympathy, nor is he looking for pats on the back from people saying he did a good job.
What he is looking for is changed lives because people have heard their story.
Life has gone on for the Biglers, as their other children grow, as he continues to impact the lives of students as a teacher and coach and as he speaks to people about an event that happened more than six years ago.
Yet, he added, life will never be the same. Bigler is hopeful that as the students make those life-altering decisions in their lives that they will remember the story of the Bigler family and make the right kind of decisions that leave a positive legacy.