John Paul Richardson is excited about starting his college experience. Again.
The 2008 Greenbrier High School graduate spent three weeks last year at Atlantic Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., when a near-fatal wreck forced him back into his parents' Evans home after more than two months in the hospital.
"I think I'm going to do it a little bit longer than three weeks this time. I'm going to try it," Richardson, 19, said Friday just before heading back to Savannah.
Police say on Sept. 8, 2008, Richardson fell asleep behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 on U.S. Highway 25 between Millen and Statesboro. The truck flipped into trees after he over-corrected and swerved across two lanes and into a ditch.
Serious injuries -- including broken shoulder blades, several broken ribs and six fractured vertebrae -- left Richardson paralyzed from the waist down.
Richardson hasn't let his wheelchair slow him down.
"He wasn't really home a lot," said Richardson's mother, Ginger. "He played wheelchair basketball. He went to Atlanta and played wheelchair softball. He's gone every night. So it's not like he's been stuck here."
Richardson has spent a lot of time in rehabilitation, both with a therapist and at home. He has gotten much more feeling and movement. He said he can move his knees and stomach, and can walk with a walker.
Richardson said he knows he won't walk again on willpower alone, but it helps. His family believes, though he is still healing from his injuries, that one day he will walk again.
"We feel like the Lord has given him a wonderful attitude through this and a good work ethic," said Richardson's father, Gary. "He just hasn't let it hold him back. He's been positive, and I'm proud of him. ... I believe that, and I have faith that with all my heart that he will walk again."
Richardson will be studying business at Armstrong Atlantic and seeing a physical therapist in Savannah.
And just like he has in the past year, Richardson said he doesn't plan to let anything slow him down.
"There's only been one thing that I have not been able to figure out, like a way to do something," Richardson said: playing the video game Rock Band and not being able to play the drums because he couldn't operate the foot pedal.
"That's the only thing I haven't been able to do," he said. "There's been things that have been hard. I fell out of my chair countless times. If you look at my knees, I fall out all the time. But I've got a good group of friends, and they pick me up."
After spending a short time near the campus in the renovated home he's sharing with a lifelong buddy, Richardson said he's already getting an idea of what living on his own will be like and what he'll miss about home.
"I've been down there four days, and I already miss living at home," he said, adding he doesn't enjoy laundry and has used the microwave a lot. "I hate doing laundry."
But Richardson is determined his second try at college will go smoother than the first.
"It is hard to leave," Richardson said. "I do want to start my life on my own. I was on the way to starting it, and I got kind of cut off.
"I'm the kind of person that if I want to do something, then I'm going to grind it out until I do it. I've kind of been on a mission to get out. I may seem a little bit more excited than I really am. I want to start my life, but I'm sad to leave my parents and my brother, everything in Augusta."
Richardson's parents said they also have mixed emotions about their son's return to college.
"I'm sad to see him go," Richardson's father said.
"I know he's ready to move on, and I want him to proceed with his life. It is hard to let him go."
Richardson said he took two English classes in the spring and summer sessions at Georgia Military College, allowing him to get re-acclimated with college.
Richardson said he has a friend he met playing wheelchair basketball who is kind of a mentor he can call anytime for advice or encouragement.
Ready for college, Richardson climbed behind the wheel of his Dodge Charger on Friday and headed back to Savannah for his second try at college.
"I'll try not to fall asleep this time," he joked.
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