Colorado Mountain College welcomes motivational speaker Marcus Engel
Perhaps the most life-altering experience of Marcus Engel’s life came not when he was the victim of an early-‘90s drunk driving car wreck as a college freshman, instantly and permanently losing his vision, nor his two years of serious medical recovery and more than 300 hours on an operating table to repair his utterly mangled face and body.
It also probably wasn’t his expedited physical and blindness rehabilitation — learning to breathe, eat, walk, read braille and be entirely self-dependent again — subsequent college and graduate school education, nor successful, present-day book writing and inspirational speaking career.
No — the most influential moment in Engel’s life occurred, as chance would have it, from another fender bender, as a high school junior just a couple years before the devastating accident that robbed him of his sight and the quality of life nearly every one of us takes for granted.
The routine occasion happened about an hour west of St. Louis, Missouri, in a parking lot like almost any other, in the tiny farming town of High Hill where he grew up.
Immediately following football practice, Engel mistakenly backed his car into that of his high school principal’s. Forced to face the music — and $1,800 in repairs — Engel was presented with tough wisdom from the school’s lead admin, Larry Luetjen: Change the things you can, and don’t sweat the things you can’t.
“And that became one of my mantras and mottos throughout my recovery,” said Engel. “It was something that I focused on whenever I was still laying in bed attached to a feeding tube and still had my legs in traction. But it’s something that I focus on every single day, too.”
Now 40 years old, he has achieved all of those aforementioned accomplishments, and more, that would be remarkable for a person with every advantage in life, let alone someone faced with such a traumatic period of recovery and myriad obstacles in his or her way. He has shared his story with college students and medical personnel over the last 15 years to assist each with their own daily trials and challenges, ideally helping them put it all in greater context.
“I just want to empower people to look at the fact that it’s our choices, not our circumstances, that ultimately determine our fulfillment and happiness,” he said. “But more than that, I hope that they’ll be able to take away the tools and techniques that I had to implement to get through my extreme adversity and then be able to apply that to their own situations, their own problems, their own life issues that we all have.”
Colorado Mountain College welcomes Engel, author of four books, to its Breckenridge campus as part of its ongoing speaker series on Thursday evening, April 14. The 11-campus High Country school system thinks his message will resonate well with its diverse and multicultural student body, as well as the public.
“There’s a need for some conversation on what he talks about,” said Karin Mitchell, CMC’s Summit campus disability service coordinator. “It’s a nice opportunity for a community — both the county and the college — that is very progressive and very welcoming and accepting, providing services for people with disabilities.”
She also noted the benefits of the dialogue Engel can help start about impaired driving given the community at-large is made up of a number of individuals with substance-abuse issues. While not a focal point of his monologue — “There’s very, very little emphasis on this whole idea, ‘Don’t go out and drink 15 beers and get behind the wheel.’ I think most people know that these days” — it is undeniably a major component of his personal story, and he can speak to the clear harm such decisions can have on other people’s lives.
From a severely broken body and the sudden loss of his ability to see, however, and time spent back at his parents’ home back in High Hill, as well as extended periods in Denver and New Jersey, he has pieced himself back together and only has sights set on the future. He released his first book in 2006, married his wife Marvelyne a year later and moved to Orlando where he now makes his home. He continues to focus on what lies ahead, rather than facets of life like “What if?” and hopes to release two new books in the coming year or so.
“I’ve had to really look at life and say, ‘Where is my life now? Where was my life? Where do I want my life to go next?’” he said. “There’s a lot of acceptance and forgiveness that goes into that, a lot of adjustment and overcoming adversity.”
It’s this sentiment Engel aims to extend to his audience, not unlike the words his high school principal left with him some-25 years ago. That the life we’re each individually granted is about enduring and better ourselves from the aspects we can’t control, while owning those we can.
“The things I talk about are what got me through my hard times that are as simple as ‘Change the things you can,’” he said. “We all have the ability to say, ‘Can I change anything?’ If it’s no, then what can I learn from this situation? What we all have the power to change is the perception of our circumstances.”
Marcus Engel appears at CMC from 6-8 p.m. at the Eileen and Paul Finkel Auditorium at 107 Denison Placer Rd. in Breckenridge on April 14. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Heidi Kunzek at (970) 453-6757 ext. 2614.
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