Recovery After Nearly Fatal Car Accident


courtesy of Coach Berns

Nathan and Ben after the Finals race, in which Saugus won League Champions

Madeline Del Rio, Editor in Chief

During Winter Break of 2021-2022, the Saugus Cross Country Team experienced a tragic incident. While on their daily morning run, two sophomore athletes were struck by a speeding car that ran a red light on Alamogordo Road at Bouquet Canyon Road. This serious accident caused severe injuries to both Nathaniel Marrin and Ben Gonzales. However, the athletes continued to attend every practice after leaving the hospital and recovering. Their determination to continue what they love after such an extreme setback is an inspiration to the team and the Saugus student body as a whole. 

Head Coach Kevin Berns detailed the horrible accident: “The boys team was crossing through an intersection during the run, and as they got half way through the intersection, a car went through the red light. The first three or four boys, including previous coach Baxter, made it through, but the boys after that were hit by the car.”

The injuries were drastic. “I had brain swelling and bleeding,” Nathaniel began, “A fractured shoulder, shattered elbow, fractured pelvis, and several road burns that were pretty serious.” Ben severely shattered his tibia and fibula. 

As many of the Saugus runners witnessed the violent scene, and all had close relationships with Nathaniel and Ben, the team was deeply disturbed. The athletes, coaches, and parents had already learned of life’s fragility in November of 2019, and after the sudden car accident, they had to go through the lesson again. 

“As a person, as a father, that was pretty tough.” Coach Berns admitted. “You start to think about – what if it was your kid? As a parent, you never want to have to see another parent go through… go through their child getting hit by a car.”

This heart-wrenching incident was an enormous trial for the Saugus Cross Country Team. However, instead of allowing fear and depression to consume them, the team chose to rise more unified and resilient after the accident. 

“The days after that, the weeks after that, we bonded more,” Coach Berns expressed. “The team rallied around Nathaniel and Ben, going to the serenity space together, making cards, doing the small things.”

The boys’ recovery was slow, and they have still not fully convalesced. Ben admitted that, “The scars that came with the injury really suck and living with them have affected me a lot mentally and physically.”

 Nathaniel described, “My bones and skin healed up pretty fast, but my other injuries, like my whiplash and head trauma, still aren’t one-hundred-percent. For example, when I woke up after the accident, I had pretty bad double vision that still hasn’t completely gone away. Also, since my elbow was broken so badly, I still do not know if I will ever get full mobility back.”

Though a valid reaction after such injuries would likely be to quit, heal, and possibly try out a different sport, both of the boys returned to practice as soon as possible. 

“What caused me to stay in cross country is the support everyone on the team gave me,” Ben explained. “It was insane. It was truly insane, and I just want to get back to where I was last cross country season. It’s really motivated me.” 

Echoing his teammate, Nathaniel added, “I mainly stayed in cross country because of all of the friends that I made while in it. I was excited to see and hangout with them again. But when I got hit, I was actually getting pretty fast and was super hyped to race. Since I lost all of that progress, I am really motivated to get fast again.” 

Clearly, instead of surrendering to this setback, both of the boys are only aching to reach their fitness levels of last cross country season again. Both of the athletes have in fact already raced this season and look forward to racing the Mount Sac Invitational and Finals at COC in a few weeks. Instead of being engulfed by discouragement, the boys are only more determined to reach their goals. 

To prevent an event like this from ever reoccurring, Coach Berns informs that the team is “…on heightened alert. We’re always talking about being safe and planning routes accordingly. If school’s letting out or there’s an area with high traffic, we try to avoid it on runs. Going through an intersection, we are all looking, watching, for any car that could potentially roll through the red light.” 

Coach Berns warns Saugus as a whole, including athletes and non-athletes, to be aware of our surroundings. “We’re not just looking at getting hit by a car running through an intersection. We’re talking about power in numbers; we’re talking about being careful when you’re going out late at night. That’s a powerful message.” 

In essence, it is important for Saugus to act as a supportive community after such events, for showing love and compassion through trials contributes to a unified strength.  Nathaniel and Ben’s resilience and bravery in overcoming this horrific event and returning to their sport with new ambition is truly an inspiration. Ultimately, Coach Berns expresses, “We’ve gone through a lot in the past four years, and I think every time we have to go through some kind of tragedy, it just brings people together.”