Crash Victim Turns From Track Star to Coach

Sarkis Adajian

Determination, passion and courage. Rita Assoian has embodied all of those qualities in her remarkable return to a sport she loves.

Assoian was a freshman at GCC and a stand-out sprinter when at 19 disaster struck.

A major car accident during the 2009 holiday season cut short her promising track career.

As she was exiting the 134 freeway, a car rear-ended her and threw her off course, but that wasn’t what nearly took her life. She got out of her car to get help, and a car speeding upwards of 90 mph struck her vehicle, which in turn struck her.

“First of all I was in a coma, I could not breathe on my own, and I had 10 broken bones?including: five ribs, clavicle, scapula, two vertebrates and my skull. I had a very low chance of survival, but being so healthy and young is the only thing I had working in my favor,” Assoian said.

Assoian had everything going for her, but in the blink of an eye nearly lost it all. She was devastated and could not cope with the idea of never being able to run again. She recalled: “I was constantly over thinking about my track career. I doubted the fact that I would ever be able to continue track. When my family and I had a meeting with the hospital, the first question I asked was if I could go back to track and field.”

Her strength and love of the sport kept her spirits high and gave her hope that she would one day return to track. The main things she needed was patience, rest and time to recover. That time made the difference.

Assoian made her triumphant comeback to the team just a month later. Not as a runner, but as an assistant coach. Her new role was the first step in resurrecting her track career. It didn’t matter to Assoian what her new role was on the team, all she wanted was to be near the team and help out anyway she could.

“I really do enjoy my new role as an assistant coach. I have never expected this role but it is a great experience. It allows me to grasp much more than an athlete. I am regularly learning new things and teaching my teammates. I enjoy watching them succeed because they work hard for it and deserve it. I do my best by coaching,” said Assoian.

Assoian has the right mentality going forward in her recovery. Take one thing away from her, and she will come back a bigger and better person. She has the drive to be successful and the strength of mind she has will take her a long way.

Good news came to her when the doctors answered “yes” to her question of returning to track.

The star sprinter took this nearly fatal incident and made it into a learning experience. Although it kept her away from running, she was able to succeed in at coaching.

Assoian will take the extra knowledge she gained while working on the sidelines as an assistant coach and use it to better her running in the future.

“She is at the meetings with us, listening and grasping as much knowledge as she could,” said track and field head coach Eddie Lopez. “She now sees the coaching aspect of it all, and sees the process that we go through in preparing the team. This will definitely make her a better runner.

“She was coming into this season as a leader and captain. We were looking forward to having her guide the team. She is so mentally tough, and motivated. We look forward to having her next season: this time as a runner.”

During these months following her accident, Assoian slowly trains to run next season while serving as assistant coach.

“I have already started running for a couple months now, and will continue getting myself into track and field shape. My teammates are very supportive and are encouraging me every day on my comeback trail,” she said.

She will return to track and field and continue running in her relay races for next season.

There is one person who always new she would make it: her mother Helen Assoian.

“When the accident happened I couldn’t help but to blame myself, Helen said. “I knew there was nothing I could have done, but as a mother you just feel guilty. As time went on, I saw my girl get through adversity and become a stronger person. She was able to get through this nightmare. I am so proud of her.”

Assoian never gave up and always believed she would return. Although the accident was a major road bump in her life, it was only a momentary slow down.

“Dont’t ever underestimate the heart of a champiion,” said former NBA head coach Rudy Tomjanovich.