1 of 28
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Kendal Levine grimaces as she works with physical therapist Marissa Moran at Neuroworx on Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Sandy. Levine was hit by a car while serving a mission in Australia.

VINEYARD — Kendal Levine knows exactly what she's going to say to the man who nearly killed her almost five years ago.

"I want to thank him," the 25-year-old Vineyard resident said.

"If it wasn't for him hitting me that day, I wouldn't be able to continue my missionary work the way I have. I don't want him to feel bad about it, because greater things have come of it."

That man fell asleep at the wheel on Sept. 5, 2014, and careened into Levine, who at the time was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sydney, Australia.

Family photo
Kendal Levine, of Vineyard, was in a coma at a hospital in Australia after she was hit by a car on Sept. 5, 2014.

The young missionary was knocked 30 feet and pinned underneath the man's Chrysler 300. She was not breathing until a bystander was able to jack up the car and pull her out.

He saved her life.

It's been a long road of recovery for Levine, who lost all physical and mental capabilities. She was in a coma for a month, hospitalized for five months and is still going to physical therapy every week after suffering a traumatic brain injury. Other than a tiny scratch on her left hand, Levine had no other injuries from that accident.

"Doctors couldn't believe she survived," Melody Levine said of her daughter.

Kendal Levine is so grateful to be alive and uses her faith-building experience to help others. She has spoken at countless firesides and to youth groups, including the Latter-day Saint faith-centered event Time Out for Girls.

But it frustrates her because she doesn't remember the whole story.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Physical therapist Marissa Moran works with Kendal Levine at Neuroworx in Sandy on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Levine was hit by a car while serving a mission in Australia.

"It's taken years of working at it," said Melody Levine. "She'll remember bits and pieces, new things every day. But it takes something familiar to remember it."

Therapists believe returning to Australia could bring back memories surrounding the horrific accident, which Kendal Levine really wants to remember.

So in two weeks, they'll visit Canberra, where the accident happened, and try to find the man who was driving that car and "get some closure," the mother said.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Kendal Levine, who was hit by a car while on a mission in Australia, tries to catch a basketball as she works with physical therapist Marissa Moran at Neuroworx in Sandy on Thursday, April 25, 2019.

"We're hoping when we go back, it will unlock more of what happened," she said. "Maybe fill in holes she didn't know were holes."

A team of Stiry photographers is planning to document the whole thing.

"The first time I met Kendal, I knew her story needed to be told," Dan Davis, founder of Stiry, said. "I knew that others would want to see this journey back to Australia as well."

Stiry, which aims to "share the good" of the world through video, is asking for donations to make the trip possible. It is the first Kickstarter project Stiry has ever pitched, but it's only because he just met Levine a month ago. He said her story is "full of hope, forgiveness, devastating loss and triumph."

"The amazing thing about her story is that it is still going," Davis said. "Going back there, this is part of her healing."

It has taken nearly five years to get to the point where traveling back to Australia to potentially relive those moments was even feasible.

"She had to be reborn," Melody Levine explained, adding that her adult daughter was like a child for a long time. "She had to learn to do everything over again."

The fact that she was even willing to try has shocked so many people along the way. One neurologist told her parents, "She'll never be anything more than a girl in a bed," Melody Levine said. "It never sat well with us.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Physical therapist Marissa Moran works with Kendal Levine at Neuroworx in Sandy on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Levine was hit by a car while serving a mission in Australia.

"We always knew it was going to be OK," she said. "We didn't know what OK was going to be, but we knew she would come out of it — and it was years."

Kendal Levine still experiences issues with balance and cannot drive on her own. It is something she very much looks forward to. Cooking alone can be dangerous, as well, as there's always a risk of falling.

"I fall down every single day," she said, adding that she is lifted by the people who follow her social media accounts. They keep her positive about life, which is dramatically different than it was before going to Australia.

"Hearing I have an impact on people's lives, that's what gives me a bump to keep going," Levine said. "That's my missionary work now."

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Kendal Levine, who was hit by a car while on a mission in Australia, passes a basketball as she works with physical therapist Marissa Moran at Neuroworx in Sandy on Thursday, April 25, 2019.

She believes she is touching more lives now than she ever could have as a proselytizing missionary.

"I get messages every day from strangers all over the world who check in to see her progress," Melody Levine said. "They pray for her. One little girl says in her prayers, 'Please bless Sister Rainbow.'"

Levine was a five-sport athlete and had a full-ride basketball scholarship at Casper College in Wyoming. She was good at every sport, her mother said. College, however, was a different story.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Kendal Levine, who was hit by a car while on her mission in Australia, smiles while looking in a full-length mirror during a physical therapy session at Neuroworx in Sandy on Thursday, April 25, 2019.

Somehow, her basketball talents didn't shine there. And Levine's teammates weren't all that familiar with her religion. Making friends was difficult and she wanted to go home.

At about the same time, church leadership announced that women could serve a mission as early as age 19. It was the perfect chance for Levine to do something more meaningful with her life, or so she thought.

"I was so excited. I thought I would go and everyone would listen to me because I'm Kendal Levine," she said.

Her mission wasn't at all what she expected — people didn't always listen — but she knew she was preparing for bigger things in life. At one point, following a particularly difficult week, she said she wrote home about a feeling that "something huge was in store for me."

"I never knew the things I was capable of," she recalls writing.

That was the week before the accident.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Kendal Levine, who was hit by a car while on a mission in Australia, makes her way to the car after physical therapy session at Neuroworx in Sandy on Thursday, April 25, 2019,

On a particularly busy day, Levine and her companion had pulled off the road to take a photograph of a double rainbow on the horizon.

"I don't remember any of it," Levine said, albeit thankfully. But anyone who knows Levine knows she really wants to know every bit of it, even if it is bad.

"Not everything has been rainbows and lollipops," her mother said. They have held onto the belief that it was an accident — a terrible accident that changed everything.

12 comments on this story

"It has changed our perspective on life and what's really important and what's not," she said. "She's still Kendal, but she's changed. We had to really fight to get her back."

Kendal Levine is still fighting, actually. She wants everyone to know they can do hard things, too.

"I hope people will be inspired to push through the struggles that they face and also learn how to forgive," she said. "I'm not mad at the guy who hit me. It's because of him that I've been able to meet more people and share my story.

"I'm better off for it."