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Amputee shares wisdom with kids

Strength, perseverance and love are the key elements to overcoming major obstacles in life, a California woman - a double amputee - told a young audience Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City.

"When you come from a place of love, you can be empowered to do anything. I am really grateful for my support system. Without them I would not be here. I would not be successful," Stephani Victor said in addressing Sen. Orrin Hatch's Youth Advisory Committee in the State Capitol rotunda.Victor, 28, an aspiring actress and film producer, was the victim of a bizarre motor vehicle accident in December 1995 in which she lost both her legs. Since that time she has battled the odds, overcoming many obstacles to walk again with artificial legs. She has undergone "bone lengthening" procedures that will hopefully make walking on the prothesis a little easier.

The attractive, vivacious blonde has been featured on ABC-TV's "20/20" and in many publications across the country. She has been named as one of the "Faces of '96" by the Los Angeles Times and is currently writing two books, one chronicling her everyday battles. The other book, she hopes, will help young people find beauty in their hearts, not in their physical appearance.

Speaking from a wheelchair to about 230 high school students from across the Wasatch Front, Victor gave details of the accident in which a vehicle careened to avoid a construction site and hit her as she and a friend were standing on the sidewalk by another car. She was crushed between the two vehicles and dragged down the street. She spent months in the hospital, underwent many operations and was told "I would never walk again." Eventually, she was able to walk with two prostheses.

"What the doctors meant to say was that it would not be practical for me to walk," she said.

Victor said the accident, for which she places no blame on the young driver of the vehicle that hit her, dramatically changed her life. But she exuded a spirit of faith, courage and determination in her talk. Her address prompted many questions from the audience.

She said she came to realize very soon after the accident that God had a "bigger plan" for her in life. I was "shocked and awakened to surrender to a higher purpose."

Victor, who decided while in a Los Angeles hospital intensive care unit that she would make a documentary of her recovery, said she didn't think at first that she would be able to speak to groups about her misfortune.

"But all of a sudden my acting career and film career had meaning and depth beyond anything that I could comprehend. It was everything that I had asked for but nothing that I felt I wanted," she said.

Victor said the driver of the car who hit her was only 17 years old at the time and had had his driver's license for only 11 days. She said he was not driving at a high rate of speed.

She reminded the teens that "driving is a privilege" and that "we should be respectful of ourselves and other people on the road."

She said, "Any time the temptation is there to maybe speed a little . . . maybe you will think of me and the end result. Because this young person (the driver) has to live with the responsibility of what happened."

Victor told the group that she hopes they appreciate the opportunities that have come to them through being selected to participate in the advisory committee. And she encouraged them to take advantage of all the good things in life that they can, including school, family, political and other ac-ti-vi-ties.

"Enjoy what you have. Love yourself for who you are. Embrace the greatness that you have. Shift your focus from any thing that you think is negative because (what you have) could be taken away like that," she said.

Melanie Bowen, Hatch's state director, welcomed the youths and thanked them for their participation on the advisory committee. And she and Sean Firth, the senator's special projects coordinator, both introduced the speaker.

Hatch formed the committee to "keep apprised of the opinions of the state's young people and to give them a chance to discuss issues that concern them."

In his remarks, Firth indicated that he hoped the young people could learn from Victor's experiences, a "story of courage, a story of strength, a story of perseverance." He said Victor has been an "inspiration to millions."