“Things suck,” Sawyer Stevens told The Associated Press nine years ago. “I’m kind of waiting for the day things will get better.”
Ten years old at the time, Stevens was severely injured in a high-profile bus crash in Cottonwood, Minnesota.
But he survived. So did his sister, Erin.
Their brother, Reed, wasn't as fortunate. He was one of the four children killed when a van slammed into their school bus on Feb. 19, 2008. Fourteen others were injured.
Now, things seem to be better for Sawyer Stevens. He's following his dream, inspired by the kindness and hard work of his doctors after the crash.
And he's got an extra $100,000 in tuition money from Dr. Pepper to help him get there.
Stevens, now a junior at the University of South Dakota, won the Dr. Pepper. Tuition Giveaway contest during the Big Ten Championship game Saturday night.
Here's his performance (filmed off a TV, sorry – it's the best video we could find).
In Stevens' submission video for the contest, he explains the crash led to "hundreds of visits with different doctors, many long overnight stints in various hospitals, 20 different surgeries, and several years of both in- and out-patient physical therapy."
After all of that, he's been able to lead a normal life, and was even valedictorian of his high school.
Those experiences inspired him to pursue a medical degree, and he wants to help others the same way doctors and medical professionals helped him.
He's pursuing a degree in medical biology, and wants to become pediatric surgeon.
Olga Franco was given 12 years in prison for the crash, the Associated Press reported in October of 2008. Franco was an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, and claimed her boyfriend – who authorities said fled to Mexico – was behind the wheel when it ran a stop sign and hit the bus Stevens was in.
Dr. Pepper gave $100,000 in tuition to four other students in different college conferences.