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'Emily Strong': Utah County teen inspires community after accident left her quadriplegic

Posted at 9:29 PM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-30 16:32:55-04

A 16-year-old faced with life-changing circumstances is inspiring her Utah County community.

Tumbling through the ups and downs of life is what Emily Traveller loves to do.

It doesn't matter if she even sticks the landing in her gymnastics routine, Traveller is living her best life at "sweet 16."

“She’s done a lot of things," said Jon Traveller, Emily's father. "She just loves to be active, extracurricular activities with her friends--anything to be going, she’s always on the move.”

Emily's mom said her daughter says "no" to nothing and "yes" to everything.

As much as Emily loves athletics, Jon and Kari said their daughter's favorite thing is to be with people she loves.

That's exactly who she was with when she was riding ATVs at Little Sahara last Friday.

READ: Thousands flock to Little Sahara sand dunes over Easter weekend

Kari's phone went off around 10 p.m.

"We were told she’d been in a rollover accident in a RZR [a side-by-side ATV] and that she was injured," said Jon.

The couple immediately hit the road, hoping to make it to their daughter who was more than an hour away.

What Jon and Kari did not know at the time: the vehicle had rolled on top of Emily. She was pinned underneath it for an hour as she waited for LifeFlight to arrive.

“The first time we realized the severity of it was when we got here and just saw what the hospital had done to prepare for her to come," said Kari.

Then, they watched first responders roll Emily off the helicopter and into the hospital before transferring her from a stretcher onto an operating table.

“We could tell that she didn’t have control over her limbs, and we were nervous," said Jon.

Doctors told the Travellers their daughter was now quadriplegic, meaning she has no feeling in her arms and her legs.

Yet, Emily has already started defying the odds against her.

Kari said that just a week following her accident, her daughter has started "flexing," meaning she can move her left arm slightly.

“She’s starting to try and move, trying to tell her body what to do, and you can see the fight," said Kari.

In her fight, you can already see Emily's light shining through.

"It’s kind of crazy how fast things happen, but I’m here, so I’m trying to just make the best of my situation," Emily said in a Zoom interview from her hospital bed in the intensive care unit. "I’ve just been trying to focus on what I can do and not on all the things I can’t.”

Emily said her room at the Utah Valley Hospital is constantly full of community members visiting her — even people she doesn't know from rival high schools have sent her notes full of love and encouragement.

“I’m just taking it in," she said.

Her nurses are even decorating her hospital room for her prom date Saturday, when her date will come and watch a movie in the ICU.

The 16-year-old understands she won't have access to the community of support once they move to Denver, Colorado to a special physical therapy clinic.

“We’re anxious to watch. We’re scared, but we’re so hopeful," said Kari.

Emily's whole family will join her at the clinic and live in a family residential area at the clinic's campus.

“I fully believe that she’s going to have the power to do all the hard things that she’s going to need to do," said Jon.

Loved ones have created a GoFundMe to help cover Emily's medical expenses and physical therapy.

The Travellers also created a Facebook page called "EmilyStrong" to give daily updates, and they invite people to join and help cheer her on.