Tim Welch doesn't look at his situation as a tragedy, but rather a gift.
The Blair resident was severely injured and nearly died when he was 14 years old after he was struck by a train in 1992. Welch shared his story with third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders Friday at Arbor Park Intermediate School as part of Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at railroad crossings.
Welch and the organization were invited to present at the school at the request of the Blair Volunteer Fire Department.
“If I can save just one life, then I've done my job,” Welch told the Pilot-Tribune.
On Feb. 6, 1992, Welch, a freshman at Blair High School, was in a hurry to head home. But a train, stopped at what was then the 19th Street crossing, was in his way.
Welch's next move changed his life forever. He climbed a hitch on the train.
“It was a bad decision,” he said. “I made the choice and I have to live with the consequences.”
While that train was stopped, the second set of tracks was being used. Two engines were pushing a boxcar.
“There was an engineer on the edge of that boxcar,” Welch said. “As soon he came around that corner, he yelled look out and I jumped.”
The engineer caught Welch, but just as he was about to lift him up, Welch slipped out of his hands.
He was dragged for three blocks before the train came to a halt at the 16th Street crossing. His left arm and left leg were severed.
Welch credits the police, volunteer firefighters and the doctors for saving his life.
“I had less than a 7 percent chance of survival,” he said. “They didn't even think I would make it to the hospital.”
Welch, who remained awake during the ordeal, was taken by medical helicopter to an Omaha hospital, where he nearly bled out. He spent a more than a month in the hospital recovering. It took him more than a year to learn to write again and two years to walk again.
“I'm very fortunate to be here to tell my story to try to prevent another accident from happening,” he said. “Please think before you act.”
It's a message Welch said he will continue to repeat and he hopes will reach the students. In the last few years, Welch said he has seen kids come too close to the train tracks, and, in some cases, try to beat a train.
“It takes on split second for your life to change forever,” Welch told the students. “Just because you think you can run faster, you will not outrun a train.”
Deb Ashworth, a volunteer with Operation Lifesaver, said Welch should serve as an inspiration.
“I worked for the railroad for 37 years and to see somebody motivated and take this tragedy and turn it into a positive, I commend you,” she said.
Ashworth taught the students tips to keep them safe at railroad crossings, including the signs and what to look for when crossing the tracks.
Trains, Ashworth said, can move up to 65 mph. In Blair, the speed limit is 40 mph. If an engineer sees something or someone on a track, they will try to stop, but it takes a train nearly a mile to come to a complete stop, she said.
“Trains can stop, they just can't stop quickly,” Ashworth said.
The students were told to stand at least 20 feet back from the tracks when a train is coming or already on the tracks. A person standing closer could be injured, she said.
Following the presentation, fifth-graders toured an Operation Lifesaver trailer to see a model of train controls and listen to engineer Rob Kennedy.