I had heard of Andrew Daigneau weeks before I met him.
And what I heard was a horrific story about a terrible motorcycle accident that occurred earlier in the summer that very nearly cost the honors student his life ... and ultimately, his right leg. His injuries were so extensive that it might have been easier to list what wasn’t fractured, torn, broken or smashed. I wasn’t prepared for the person who wheeled himself into my office suite in September, a mere three months since the accident. He looked...healthy. Upbeat. Cheerful.
I come from an Irish heritage that includes an oversized sense of sky-is-falling tragedy over things like flat tires and broken appliances. I sat back a little.
Could this kid whose whole planned future was cosmically jerked out from under him in a split second be that sanguine?
Surely there had been some dark nights of the soul, I asked him as he told his story?
He looked at me, unblinking.
That’s when I started to think about Andrew in a different way. Of course, Andrew is smart. He got into Notre Dame and the Business Honors Program. But he’s not altogether what you expect.
First off, he’s a regular guy. Andrew is a “townie,” which you don’t encounter all that often at Notre Dame. As a high school student, he worked for accounting firm Crowe LLP. He saved his money and bought his own house after his freshman year at college. He still lives with his high school buddy and dates his high school girlfriend. He fixes cars.
Second, he’s extraordinary. I certainly don’t want to diminish in any way the tremendous amount of pain and suffering that Andrew has endured. But as he talks about his life, especially about his faith, his story seems all of a piece. There’s not a “before” and an “after.” There’s only what is, and let’s get on with it. He is so darn grateful to be alive.
His pragmatic fortitude — which makes for a far less splashy headline — is what makes you simultaneously feel like weeping for him and being in total awe.
On the day we left the studio in Grace Hall after shooting the photo you can see on page 59, it was late afternoon and the light was already dimming. It was cold and spitting the kind of ice/sleet/rain/snow mixture that drains your life force.
I looked at Andrew sitting in his motorized wheelchair. We were both returning to Mendoza, all the way across campus. There was no way I could fit his chair in my car. I lamely apologized and Andrew cheerfully brushed it off. After so much time indoors recuperating, he loved being outdoors, he said. We separated.
By the time I got back to Mendoza, Andrew whizzed by in front of me. He had beat me there. And then stopped to open the door for me. Still smiling.
Everyone loves a comeback story — the person who gets knocked down and then fights his way back. Andrew’s mom, though, chose a better title for his story. Early on in his recovery, she gave him a t-shirt that said in big letters, “NO QUIT.”
Carol Elliott, Executive Editor
Courtyard photo by Matt Cashore. Photo of Andrew Daigneau and Fr. Jenkins by Barbara Johnston.