Hit and run survivor Joan Nicholson is back on two wheels
WATERLOO (KWWL) -
Nearly one year ago, a Waterloo woman was riding home on her motorcycle when an oncoming car hit her head-on.
It happened on Highway 57, just west of Cedar Falls. The driver of the car didn't stop, leaving Joan Nicholson to die on the side of the road. Fortunately, another driver was behind Nicholson and called 911. Nicholson sustained severe injuries to her body, and lost part of her leg in the crash.
Investigators say the driver, 21-year-old Jennifer Moeller, was texting when she hit Nicholson. Moeller finally turned herself into the Black Hawk County Sheriff's office two months after the crash. In August, she was sentenced to spend five years in jail. But after serving thirty days, a judge released Moeller on probation. She's also required to serve 350 hours of community service -- 80 of which must involve speaking at local schools.
Nicholson has spent the last year recovering from her injuries. She says, she's ready to take on the road ahead, and Nicholson is doing it on two wheels.
"When I'm riding, I don't think... if people don't know me, they don't know. I'll have pants and boots on, so they can't tell," said Nicholson.
What they can't tell, is what it's taken for Nicholson to get back in the saddle. When KWWL reporter Colleen O'Shaughnessy last met with Nicholson, she was in a wheelchair -- not sure when, or if, she'd be walking again. Now, one year after her accident, Nicholson is not only walking -- she's back on the wheels she loves.
"That's what I did before. That was something that I enjoy. Something that brought me a lot of joy. And if I stopped doing it... that's like part of my life is gone. And I refuse to let her take it. She took my leg. She's not taking my life," she explained.
Nicholson thinks about the woman who hit her all the time -- how Moeller's decision to text while driving changed everything.
"I hope she learns from it. I'm not so sure she has yet. Maybe. She spent 30 days in jail. She made a comment in court, said, when she was in jail, it felt like she was an animal. And they treated her like an animal. But they didn't leave her to die on the side of the road like an animal," said Nicholson.
She still has nightmares about the crash, but Nicholson is facing her fears head on. Recently, she met her goal of riding at night.
"Which was huge for me. And that was just three weeks ago," said Nicholson.
There's one place Nicholson has yet to ride, and that's on Highway 57 where the accident happened. She says, she's not sure if she'll ever be able to bring herself to ride on this stretch of road again.
"I don't know if I'll ever go that way on my bike again. I imagine someday I will. It's just kind of freaky," she said.
While her life seems like it's on the right track, Nicholson says there are moments when she asks, why me?
"Some days there's still that little bit, that I want it to be back to the way it was. I want my normal life back. But I have my life. It's just going to be a different normal. It just takes awhile to accept that," she said.
It helps to share her story with others, and possibly prevent another unnecessary crash. This may not be where she pictured her life going, but she has learned a lot about herself, and about life.
"To live each day like you might not have tomorrow. I've been lucky to have this whole year of tomorrows. So, just keep hoping for more," said Nicholson.
She plans to spend as many of those "tomorrows" as possible on the road.
Nicholson is hoping to take her story about the dangers of texting while driving to area high schools. She's also devoting more time to riding with the Patriot Guard, and plans to go on an upcoming Waterloo Honor Flight as a guardian.
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