I was supposed to be the one who taught her everything, and it was the other way around. She is so much more than I am, in so many ways. —Leah Pettit
PROVO — She scampered up the tree, lithe, fit and healthy one day in early June, part of a mock "Hunger Games," romp among a group of friends in Provo Canyon.
Tere Parra admits she's no monkey, but she's climbed many a tree before, dangling in the leaves, balancing on branches, reaching toward the sky.
So 20 feet up, when the branch gave way and she began to fall, it was disbelief that hit her hard and suddenly, long before the unforgiving ground snapped her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
"When I fell, I was thinking, 'Really? I'm falling?"
Parra, a Mexican citizen, was in Utah visiting her younger sister, Eva Daniels, when the accident happened. She'd just completed an LDS mission in Los Angeles and was catching up with friends she'd met at the Missionary Training Center.
It was supposed to be a summer of frolic and fun for the free-spirited woman who even now has a sparkle in her eyes that promises a zeal for living, loving, and adventure.
Instead, the past 20 days have been an endurance test with hours of surgery to repair her shattered face and broken back. She's barely out of the intensive care unit because of the severe nature of her injuries, and the months and years ahead promise a long road of rehabilitation.
Still, she smiles from her hospital bed, dark hair fanned out around her face, surrounded by stuffed animals like Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
She's an inspiration to Leah Pettit, who was her English teacher at the Missionary Training Center and part of the mock "Hunger Games," that ended in such tragedy June 2.
"She's an amazing person. Everyone who visits her leaves this room laughing, smiling. The nurses love her."
Pettit said it was that way even before the accident, with Tere giving a boost to so many missionaries around her in the MTC, in her honest, easy guile-less nature.
"I was supposed to be the one who taught her everything, and it was the other way around. She is so much more than I am, in so many ways.
After the accident — when Pettit realized just how bad the fall was – she said she was struck with the magnitude of the implications.
"It was this awful moment of realization that life is going to change for her, and for her friends and family, it will change for us. But here we are, talking, laughing and sharing potato chips. It's going to be fine...She's going to be an inspiration for a lot of people."
Tere says she gets her strength from the friends and family who visit her.
"They make me strong. Time is something really precious; I love knowing they give that time to me."
Her bad days, she says, come when she thinks of life "before" and what she's not going to be able to do in the future. Her faith, she adds, is like a strong branch she grabs onto during those dark times, and she knows it will not fail her.
She cries and prays, a lot.
"I tell God if you've prepared this for me, I'm going to take it. If that is your plan for me, I'm going to take it and be strong. There is hope in everything."
Her parents in Mexico are distraught, and grieve over her loss. They are able to keep in touch through social media.
She gives them comfort, and is firm in her resolve.
"I tell them if I am OK with this, you have to accept this also. They are sad, but I tell them I am OK with this. I don't want them to see them that way."
Both Tere and Eva have already been through the tears that come with loss. Another sister bled to death in an operation that went wrong and they couldn't be there at the time to help their parents in the immediate aftermath.
So Eva, the little sister to Tere, tries to comfort their parents that are so far away in another country.
"I can get through this if she is happy. I am strong because she is strong. I told my parents, 'Now it is my turn.'
Friends have organized a variety of fundraisers to help with Tere Parra's medical costs. She does not have insurance. A 5K race will be held at 8 a.m. July 14 at Lakeridge Junior High School in Orem. Cost is $20. A barbecue afterward is at 11 a.m. and is $10. On July 13, a dance at The Center in Orem costs $5. It is from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. For more information, call Cory Lovelace, 801-874-7044 or email email@example.com
A donation page has been set up to garner support for the woman, with a goal of raising $200,000 to help offset medical costs. As of midday Tuesday, 38 donors had raised $2,215.
You can learn more about Tere at a Facebook page.