Those who have not yet heard the story of Zac “Rusty” Russ have not yet heard the incredible showing of strength, courage, and survival that portrays the last few months of the life of Zac Russ. Rusty, as all of his friends call him, was biking on the afternoon of Oct. 18, 2014, in Mandeville after working at the Our Lady of the Lake fair and was planning on taking a ride down the Mandeville Trace.
At the intersection of Lafayette and Monroe streets, Rusty was struck by an SUV. Police reports say he was thrown 45 feet from the site of the accident. He was soon airlifted to University Hospital in New Orleans.
Word of Rusty’s accident spread throughout the St. Paul’s community quickly, and the prayers of hundreds of families were lifted to the recovery of Zac Russ. After a grueling healing process of over a month in the hospital and multiple surgeries, Rusty returned to his home in Mandeville. Earlier this month, he returned to his other home, known as St. Paul’s School.
Many have heard the police, news, and school reports on the accident of Zac Russ, but not many individuals have heard Rusty’s own account of the accident. Here are his own personal responses to a one-on-one interview with The Paper Wolf.
In your own words, what exactly happened in the accident?
- “Well, I was slipping through a stop sign, and I think I tried to stop, but I was hit by a woman in her car. I flew 45 feet and landed in a ditch. That’s where I fractured my right hip and cracked her windshield with my head.”
Do you remember anything from the accident or remember any of the pain?
- “I remember the sound of me hitting the windshield. My vision was really blurry, and I wasn’t sure what happened. I kept asking the EMS guy what happened, and he said that I was hit by a car. I thought he was kidding; I mean, I thought I just woke up from a nap on the street or something. I couldn’t believe it, man.”
Where are all of your scars?
- “Three on my left arm, one on my right, one scar on my hip, and one on my back, and one on my stomach from where they took out my spleen.”
What are all of your injuries?
- “Well I broke both humerus bones, and I also broke my radius and ulna in my left arm, so yeah, I basically shattered my left arm. I fractured my hip, and they also took out my spleen.”
Do you feel any connection with Reagan Hill, since both of you went through a near death experience?
- “Actually, yeah. He came to visit me in the hospital and my house, too. I told him about my experience, and he told me about his. It’s pretty cool that I’m able to know someone with a similar experience. Regan is a pretty cool guy; I hope I can become friends with him during the rest of the school year.”
How do you feel the St. Paul’s community helped you while you were down?
- “Oh, they helped me a lot, dude. I know there were a lot of prayers, and I felt the support of you guys around me. I heard that you guys were praying for me in the assemblies, too, which is cool. I also received a lot of support from my friends that don’t attend St. Paul’s, as well. I couldn’t believe the amount of support I was getting from everyone.”
Are you going to get back on the bike again anytime soon?
- “Oh, definitely, I already got a new bike as a gift from a friend of mine. I hope to start riding again around February.”
How has this experience changed your life?
- “I honestly don’t believe I went through that much of an emotional change because of this accident. I mean, I was on my bike and I got hit by a car, those types of things happen, I’m still here. Actually, I heard that Justin Addison was hit a bunch of times while on his bike; it just so happened that one of those hits had to be fatal.”
Is there anything else you want to include in this story?
- I am going to focus on resurrecting the St. Paul’s “Holy Rollers” bike team. I was devastated when the program vanished, and he would like to revive a team for my true passion, biking.
Rusty’s “bio” on his Instagram has the phrase “Test your Limits! I WILL live to ride another day!” Zac Russ has certainly earned another chance to ride another day.
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NEW STORY DEVELOPMENT: After this interview, Zac Russ became the first beneficiary of the newly formed Reagan’s Peanut Butter Project, receiving a backpack full of goodies and a new MacBook Air laptop. Reagan’s Peanut Butter Project was formed by Reagan Hill and his personal recovery angel, Chris McDonald of MugShots Restaurant, home of Hill’s favorite dish, the infamous Peanut Butter Burger. The joint venture was born when McDonald learned that Hill was craving a Peanut Butter Burger while recovering from a paralyzing swim injury. McDonald began visiting Hill at Children’s Hospital and ended up becoming a big part of his recovery story. Now, a portion of the proceeds from every Peanut Butter Burger goes to Reagan’s Peanut Butter Project, with the goal “to make life grand and help others shine by providing smiles, laughter, and hope one Peanut Butter Burger at a time.“