Megan Read (second from right), the 2010 Olive Garden’s Pasta Tales 10th-grade category winner is joined by Hemet High School Principal Dr. Emily Shaw, Olive Garden General Manager Joleen Watson and Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone. Photo courtesy of Katie Lennon, Pierson Grant Public Relations

“It all started when my sophomore English teacher at Hemet High School gave the class an assignment to write an essay for the Olive Garden’s Pasta Tales Essay Contest. She told us to use emotion and detail in our writing,” recalls Megan Read. “It was then I decided to write about my horrific soccer accident that happened three years ago.”

Megan was a 12-year-old Idyllwild Middle School student when she was hit by a soccer ball while defending a goal. The strong blow to the front of her head propelled her backward, causing the back of her head to hit a pole. She was determined to finish the game so she took an Advil and continued on.

“Things began to happen on the way to our pizza victory celebration. I couldn’t put on my sandals; I was drooling, and I wasn’t enunciating my words.” Her parents, both soccer coaches, immediately had her airlifted to Loma Linda Hospital. “All I remember was being placed in the helicopter; I don’t remember much after that.”

When Megan awoke, her left side was paralyzed, and she couldn’t remember names. “During those 10 days in the hospital, I just kept laughing when the words came out wrong. I didn’t realize how bad off I was. The hospital staff was amazed when I wanted to get up and walk around.”

Megan returned to Loma Linda for outpatient physical and speech therapy, and in a few months regained her speech and strength. During the recovery period, Idyllwild school teacher Patty Carratello came to Megan’s house, boosted her morale, and kept her up with her studies.

“All the students and staff at middle school were so nice to me, but I felt I didn’t get the chance to be what I used to be. Does that make sense?” she said. Megan was determined not to be treated differently and was happy when the doctor cleared her for the cheerleading squad three months later. One year later, Read was able to play her favorite contact sports — soccer, softball and volleyball.

Upon entering Hemet High School, Megan felt she was making a fresh start. “Nobody cared about the accident, and I could finally be me. My friends have said I am a different person since my accident. Some even say I used to blow people off, and now I’m so friendly. I think it made me appreciate each day. I find myself standing up for those students who have disabilities. I tell them don’t worry when people make fun of you, high school isn’t the whole world.”

According to one of the contest judges, Read’s essay “flows smoothly from beginning to end. She truly is on her way to accomplishing her dream.” All essays are reviewed and judged on creativity, adherence to theme, organization, grammar, punctuation and spelling by Olive Garden and the Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Iowa.

Read Megan’s essay, chosen out of 28,000 entries in the United States. She was awarded a $500 savings bond and a family dinner at the nearest Olive Garden.

Pasta Tales Essay Contest

By Megan Read
Idyllwild, Calif.

Staring at a picture of a grapefruit, and not being able to say its name, I could feel the tears starting to flow down my cheeks. I know what it smelled like, that it had a citrus taste, that it was round, and I knew that it could fit in my hand. I didn’t know then that moment of frustration would be my inspiration for a career, but that is exactly what it was. That moment, and so many like it that followed, has fueled my desire to become a speech therapist.

Three years ago, a soccer injury caused me to have a severe brain trauma. Basically I had a stroke. The therapy that followed was intense and was given to me by a group of teachers who cared about my recovery, at times more than I did. We worked hard as a team, both at school and at home, to help me regain my memory, my speech, and my life.

My path to becoming a speech therapist will be a long one that takes me through university education, and graduate school. While university studies will teach me the knowledge I will need, it will be the examples like the teachers, who will teach me how to care, even when there seems to be no hope.

While I was in the hospital, I thought my life was over. I had so many reasons to give up, but with everyone’s support around me, staring at that grapefruit didn’t seem so bad.