Doing her part to save a life
Senior, criminology major
On Feb. 25, 2006, University of Florida student Nicole Martingano took a trip to Best Buy and did not go home until six months later.
That was the night her car was hit by a drunken driver.
She spent 11 days in a coma and months in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility. But when she finally recovered, she turned her memories of the frustration of relearning how to walk, jump and tie her shoes into a powerful, one-woman campaign to prevent college students from driving drunk.
Martingano, a 22-year-old criminology major who was 19 at the time of the wreck, uses her story, accompanied by pictures of her mangled car and herself in the hospital, to warn college students of the perils of drinking and driving.
She estimates she has given her presentation, “How to Save a Life,” to more than 6,500 people, including Greek organizations at UF, criminology and first-year Florida classes, students at the University of North Florida and St. Leo University, and medical professionals from Shands at UF medical center.
She said her age helps her bring the message home.
“That’s what really makes a difference,” she said. “I’m a student, I could have been sitting in class with you that morning. I’m not someone’s mom.”
Her experience resonates with students, who sometimes approach her on campus after hearing her speech to talk to her about it.
Immediately after the car crash, Martingano’s family drove to Gainesville, not yet knowing if she was alive. Her mother did not leave the hospital until she did, and decorated her room with tokens from friends and family, including a stand-up poster of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter she brought from home.
At first, Martingano was angry at the other driver. Then she realized anger would not change what happened to her. By the time she recovered, she had decided she needed to tell everyone of the dangers of drunken driving.
Although the topic of her speech is serious, she lightens the mood with jokes and a friendly attitude. Although reliving the crash can be tiring, she never gets stage fright.
“Nothing scares me anymore,” she said.
- Photo credit: Kristen Bartlett Grace — University Photography