Former GCU Rugby player leaning on faith after near-fatal car accident
By: Mack Drake/GCU Staff
Hunter Twamley is the first to admit he’s living on borrowed time.
He’s also the first to admit that he’s a changed man. A better man. A man who no longer takes any moment for granted.
Because for a moment on a wet, drizzly Southern California morning last year, Twamley wasn’t sure if his time was up.
“Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have survived it,” said Twamley, a former Grand Canyon University Men’s Rugby player. “At the time that it all happened, I didn’t realize how bad it was. Now, it’s like, ‘I’m lucky and blessed to even be alive right now.’”
Twamley is referring to his brush with death – a terrifying car accident he was involved in that many wouldn’t have survived.
Driving to work at 6 a.m. on a rainy July 2019 morning in Orange County, Twamley was traveling westbound on Ortega Highway just outside his hometown of Murrieta when his 2017 Chevy Cruze hydroplaned, flipped into the median and hit a tree at 60 miles per hour.
After finally coming to a rest, the hood of the car caught fire. Twamley tried to escape using the driver-side door, but it was jammed shut. Making matters worse, he couldn’t put any weight on his right leg. He later learned that his ankles had shattered in the accident.
“I had to get out, somehow, some way,” Twamley said. “That’s all I was thinking about. I just knew there wasn’t much time to get out of there.”
Twamley did find a way. He managed to squirm his way out the passenger door and slowly crawled away from the car, which quickly became engulfed in flames.
An emergency crew raced to the scene and escorted Twamley to a hospital in Mission Viejo, where he underwent immediate surgery to repair both of his broken ankles. His right ankle took the worst of the damage. Doctors told him his right talus shattered into 10 pieces.
“One of my doctors told me it was one of the worst ankle injuries he had ever seen,” Twamley reflected. “They really weren’t sure if I was ever going to walk again. That was one of the darkest moments for me. I grew up hunting and playing sports. Now, it was looking like I wasn’t going to be able to do any of that.”
Despite the wreckage, the full magnitude of the accident still hadn’t sunk in, even after surgery. It wasn’t until Twamley’s dad went to inspect the car and sent a collection of horrifying pictures back to the family that it finally hit home.
“Even on the ride to the hospital with the EMTs, I was cracking jokes and keeping it all lighthearted,” Twamley said. “When my dad sent those pictures, it finally hit me. I realized that I probably should have died in that car.”
The sudden realization of what had happened to him sent the usually happy-go-lucky Twamley into a mental tailspin. He couldn’t keep dark thoughts from creeping into his head. The accident, understandably, was wearing away at his normally fun, optimistic attitude.
“There was a lot of, ‘Why me?’,” Twamley reflected. “I couldn’t shake all the dark thoughts I was having. I went into a really bad place mentally after the accident. I had a bad attitude towards everybody, even though they were just trying to help me.”
It was Twamley’s newfound faith that finally revived his spirit and dramatically changed his entire perspective on life.
Twamley’s girlfriend at the time, noticing that something wasn’t right, helped him begin his journey with God, introducing him to the Bible. His outlook quickly flipped, and he began to realize there was a reason he survived his face-to-face encounter with death.
“I decided to work on myself instead of feeling sorry for myself,” said Twamley, who graduated from GCU this year. “My mentality completely switched, and I took the route towards God. Instead of dwelling on what happened, I looked at it as a huge blessing to even be alive. I focused on finding my purpose in life.”
Twamley, who served as the GCU Rugby team manager last year, even decided to start a Bible study group for players and coaches. Bible study was held once per week during the season and focused on God and other life topics. Every discussion was focused on becoming better men.
“I realized that the more I helped other people, the happier I was and better I felt,” Twamley said. “The Bible study sessions gave me purpose and a reason to keep going. I was still early in my journey with God, so the sessions helped me learn a lot as well.”
Through his faith, Twamley has discovered his purpose. An aspiring motivational speaker, he wants to help people and use his story to uplift others going through similar dark times.
“To me, it’s more important to help people than make a ton of money or have a big house, or whatever,” Twamley said. “If I can help one person, and that person goes on to help another person – it’s just a ripple effect. I want to help as many people as I can. That’s my purpose.”
Over a year after the accident, Twamley is still grinding away on the road to recovery. He attends physical therapy three times per week, slowly but surely working his way back to full strength. After being confined to a wheelchair and hobbled by crutches for the better part of a year, Twamley is back to walking on his own without limitations.
He’s also focused on his role with GCU Rugby. Lopes’ Head Coach Sean O’Leary recently named Twamley – who graduated from GCU with a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and Economics and a Minor in Business Management – the team’s social media coordinator for the upcoming season.
“Coach O (O’Leary) has been a mentor for me through all of this,” said Twamley, who played for the Lopes from 2015-2019. “I want to help the program in any way that I can. Coach O is more than a coach. He’s somebody who really cares about his players. If I can take small tasks out of his hands so he can spend more time coaching and mentoring the boys, that’s what I want to do.”
Along with O’Leary, Twamley credits his family, friends and the rugby community for supporting him through what has been the hardest year of his life – mentally and physically.
“From my perspective, there are always people trying to help you,” Twamley said. “It’s easy to dismiss them, and have a bad attitude towards them, because you only see them through your eyes. My advice to anybody is to recognize the bright lights in your life, and understand they are trying to help you. I struggled to do that at first, but I’m so thankful for every person who has reached out a hand to support me during this whole thing.”
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