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A Tragic Accident Brings Folks Together

Seventeen year old Zack Bernier of Clinton, Connecticut had just graduated from Morgan High School, June 24th, 2011.  Five days after that rite of passage, he went climbing with friends at Chatfield Hollow State Park in Killingworth, Connecticut slipped and fell about forty feet and ended up in a hospital bed paralyzed from the waist down. His spine has been fused and steel rods have been implanted to give him upper body strength. Pain is  no stranger to this young man these days.

Zack, an honor student, was looking forward to attending Hofstra University where scholarship money awaited him, to perhaps pursue an engineering degree, instead he is home learning to deal with his “new normal.”

His life and his family’s and his friend’s  will never be the same, but they are striving to move forward, but something amazing is happening in and to the town of Clinton. This shoreline town  went into big time action for this young man and his family to help in anyway they could.

Benefits are being held for Zack to help his family afford a customized van so that someday soon he will get back some of that independence he lost.  A bathroom was rebuilt to help Zack. A lift was put into the Bernier’s garage so that Zack can lower himself out of the house and get outside when he needs to. Meals weeks and weeks after the accident are still being dropped off in coolers to help the family. This kind of good will is infectious. People want to help, and they have a big reason to do so for Zack Bernier.

All of this help is hard for any family to accept because you are so grateful that you don’t know where to start in thanking people for their grace and kindness. The truth of the matter is that it feels great to know you are doing your part to bring change for good.

Life changed for this 17-year old, but Zack has become a beacon of hope and with a lot of help he plans to indeed go on to study at Hofstra in the spring. Unless of course the University of Connecticut wants to get a hold of him and also offer him a bright future, after all Connecticut has an amazing engineering program.

I have an Uncle who is paralyzed and know about such tragic accidents that you don’t see coming and the intense level of coping with a new life. Zack needs and wants to be independent. I watched him as he maneuvered himself out of his garage and got himself into the family van lifting each heavy unmovable leg one by one, it’s amazing to see how this young man is trying his best to move forward. Do yourself a favor and watch the video below and see what Zack is able to do on his own already.

As for Zack and his Mom and Dad and siblings, filled with so much joy on the day he graduated, they are getting used to their new life, they know  Zack will stand tall again someday soon, even from his wheel chair.

In the meantime if you want to talk to Zack you can find him on  his Zack Bernier Facebook Page which has served as a source of strength for him. Go ahead and “friend” him and start that conversation, you never know where the connection might lead. Go get ’em Zack, whether you like it or not you are a lot of people’s hero.



  1. Lisa Neri
    Posted August 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    What an inspirational article! I have never met Zach, but live in Clinton and see all that is going on here to support him. I have attended some of the fundraisers and it is amazing to see that people of all ages are supporting the Berniers. Zach is truly an inspiration to anyone – he is most definataly a hero in my eyes. I admire his strength, courage and determination. Keep at it Zach!

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      Lisa, none of us know what lies ahead, and the fact that so many are surrounding this young man and his family, well it’s what we do best as humans.

  2. Fran Pinard
    Posted August 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    So much accomplished in such a short time keep up the great work and keep a positive attitude.

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 17, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Fran, all you have to do is spend a little time with Zach, and you just know that he is going to accomplish great things.

  3. Loretta Hine
    Posted August 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Zack is my Grandson and my Hero…He has always been a kid with a laid-back way, and a witty sense of humor…With the support and prayers of so many wonderful people, I know he will reach any goal he sets for himself..Thank you for this post.. you are one of his special friends….<3

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 17, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Loretta, you must be very proud of your Grandson, he has amazing strength, I’m so glad to have met him, these are the stories that matter.

  4. Betsy
    Posted August 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Sooooo very happy to see this update……
    Your strength and the strength of those around you is amazing. I believe that all
    the prayers that have been said for you are being answered. You have found an angel
    that will walk with you.

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Betsy, thank you so much for reading, Zack is making incredible strides and he is such a symbol for what the human spirit embodies.

  5. Barb Vincelette
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Ann: Thank you for sharing your time together with Zack! He is an amazing young man with a very strong resolve! He has done great things in a very short time and will continue to do so! BELIEVE!

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Barb, it is Zack that is giving the gift to others by his courage.

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Barb, it was such a pleasure understanding and getting to know Zack.

  6. Cecilia Lester
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    So good to hear of Zach’s determination – and as a Clinton resident the pride is enourmous as to the outpouring of support and prayers for the Berniers. Working with Lisa brings it closer to home, but even if I did not know of this family, I feel blessed to live in a community of people who have shown so much compassion. Hope continues to grow for Zach. Thank you for the update!

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Cecilia, I am in awe of what the town of Clinton is doing for this family in that Zack Bernier is a household name not only in Clinton but outside its borders, these grass root efforts are truly powerful.

  7. Diane VanSteenbergen
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Thank you Ann for such an amazing inspirational story about Zack and his beautiful family. My Mom used to work with Lisa, Zack’s Mom, and in knowing her, I know Zack is very blessed to have such a wonderful family. Our communities are amazing how we all pull together in a time of great need. These stories are what matters in life! Always BELIEVE!

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Diane, Lisa is a sweetheart, Zack is becoming a symbol of what is good and great in communities and this kind of love has to be harnessed and remembered in a pretty negative world.

  8. Donna Earl
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Zack You are amazing. Don’t know you personally, but we have fond memories of living down the street from your grand parents on Van Dyke Lane. Your Aunt Solange, Keith and Terasa were best of friends. You have a awesome family and the support and love from them is wonderful. To see your progress and your strength to go forward is an inspiration and I know that God has a plan and destiny for you to fulfill. You will be in our prayers. God Bless

  9. Ray Bernier
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to befriend Zach. We have been there at Yale hospital when he has said “…excuse me I have a text message fron Ann…”.
    Your friendship has been an inspirati0n to Zach to bring him to where he is today.
    – Paternal grandparents – Louise & Ray Bernier

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      You have one extraordinary Grandson, and it is my pleasure to know him.

  10. Jennice Jedzinak Leonard
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    I no longer live in Clinton, but lived there my entire life until college. I graduated high school with Lisa and I know what a wonderful person she is! I find this entire article extremely inspirational and awesome! I knew Clinton was such a wonderful place and I miss it dearly, and still proud to call it home!! Most of all, Zach and is family are such an outstanding example of a wonderful family coming together helping each other in a time of need. Zach, you are a true hero, you contain all the ingredients to go far in life; determination, strength, independence and life goals!! Keep going Zach, your doing a wonderful job!! You and your family remain in our prayers, much love from here in New Orleans!!!

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      Jennice, thank you so much for reading all the way from New Orleans. In an instant life changed for the Berniers, but Lisa is doing a remarkable job, truly, they all are and the town is helping so much.

  11. Posted August 20, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    He is an inspiration. I am proud to be a resident of Clinton. Clinton is a wonderful town with so many great people. I am believing in a complete healing for Zack. Thanks for the story Ann, it is so good to read good news, and this is very good news.

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted August 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Cherie, Zack and his family are an inspiration to all of us, and so is the town of Clinton, this is about neighbor helping neighbor.