On Oct. 15, 2000, Tiphany Adams was cut from a mangled Hyundai Excel on Highway 12 after it collided head-on with an oncoming car.
Three teens died that night; Adams was the only survivor.
Doctors tried to prepare the family for the worst: The Tokay High School senior only had a 5 percent chance to live — if she could make it through the first week.
Her body underwent 20 hours of surgery. She remained in a coma for three weeks.
It's been nearly 11 years since the accident. Not only did Adams beat her odds, but she is using her experience to teach people about keeping a positive mindset.
Adams, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to a spinal injury from the accident, is one of four stars of "Push Girls," a 14-part Sundance Channel docu-series that follows the lives of four friends in wheelchairs.
The next episode, "Living in the Fast Lane," airs this Monday and features Adams' visit to her hometown of Lodi. In the episode, she faces her past by not only attending the reunion for her graduating class — Tokay High, Class of 2001 — but she and her family also visit the accident scene near Flag City on Highway 12 for the first time. Coincidentally, the Oct. 15, 2011 reunion was on the 11-year anniversary of her accident.
The 29-year-old reality TV star is open about her Lodi roots, which included a lot of underage drinking, partying, drugs and sex. Before the accident, she had spent the day with friends at a wakeboard competition on the Delta that turned into a party. Like everyone else, she'd been drinking. However, she waited to ride home with a sober driver.
As they were returning to Lodi, they were hit head-on by a car that veered into their lane. The driver of the other vehicle was intoxicated — a friend they had spent the day with.
After her coma and surgeries, the doctors expected Adams to remain in the hospital until around June. She beat their estimate, and made it home on Dec. 21, 2000.
By February, she was back in classes at Tokay. She started driving shortly after that, graduated with her class in June and started college in August.
At San Joaquin Delta College, she studied child development and took psychology classes.
"I knew since I was 15 that I wanted to teach," she said.
She also took theater as a hobby, and looked into modeling. The week of her accident, she was supposed to model with a classic Impala for the cover of a car magazine.
Though she was in school, it took a while for Adams to ground herself after the accident. She hadn't yet given up drinking or partying. But she yearned for more. She needed a change of scenery.
"I just knew that I had a higher calling, and I needed to move to Los Angeles," she said.
Four years ago, she made the move to Southern California. She took acting classes with Otto Felix, who was one of the first handicapped performing artists.
"He told me from the first few times, 'You're going to make it in this industry,'" she said. "He believed in me, and I think that's what it's all about."
Three days after moving to L.A., she met the girls who would become her friends and co-stars of "Push Girls."
Filming the Lodi episode made Adams a little apprehensive. Coming home with a camera crew, she didn't want people to say, "'Oh, look who thinks she's Miss Diva now.' I didn't want that coming off at all," she said.
Adams was excited for the reunion, which was held at the historic Cactus restaurant in Woodbridge, where she got to see her former classmates, many of whom supported her right after the accident.
"I didn't realize how many people from Tokay High School would be so supportive," she said. "I have over 50 teddy bears (from after the accident) ... I think that helped my speedy recovery."
The show urged Adams and her father, Dan Adams, to open old wounds by returning to the scene of the accident.
As they visited the site on the side of the road, the family embraced each other and cried. For Adams, the experience was surreal. She thought of her friends who died that day. She felt blessed. Though she is in a wheelchair, she feels so fortunate for the movement that she does have.
"You never know how really, really, really precious life is. For people, it takes a lot to realize how precious it is to wiggle toes, jump up and down, do a cartwheel — the little things that I miss," she said.
Dan Adams says the filming of the episode made him relive the emotion of the accident, and he realized he hadn't dealt with the pain himself. Even calling to tell family members about the episode was a struggle, and he still avoids Highway 12.
"I'm a 50-year-old grown adult man, and I avoid it because I didn't want to go by the scene of the accident," he said, adding that living near Lockeford makes it a little easier for him to stay away.
When it comes to his daughter, Dan Adams says he's extremely proud. He is aware of her struggles. He was there when she came home with a tattoo at 15. He knows all too well just how hard she partied when she was young.
But now, Tiphany Adams is a different person. She works hard. She volunteers. She is learning about spirituality of all kinds, and teaching people to keep their minds open. Most of all, she is thankful.
"You realize it's not all about me, and it's not about drowning in your own sorrow ... you have to take something and turn it into something beautiful," she said. "Waking up in the morning and just breathing — that is a gift."
Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.