While the rest of Florida was cursing the uncharacteristically cold January weather, the 20 degree temps saved Robbie Washington's life after a late-night motorcycle accident.
"The cold stopped me from bleeding to death," Washington explained. "If it was 10 degrees warmer, I wouldn't be sitting here today."
Traveling east and heading home on Highway 98, Washington was unexpectedly thrown from his Suzuki Boulevard after attempting to dodge a small animal that jumped in the road.
"It was a bitterly cold night," he said. "I was passing Seascape and I remember passing signs for Whataburger and Waffle House and deciding where I wanted to stop for food."
Veering off of the highway, Washington collided with a road sign, severing his foot, breaking his pelvic bone and shattering bones in his hand. He landed in a ditch, into a foot of water where he laid for almost an hour before firefighters saw the bike while out on a call.
"The next thing I remember is hearing a helicopter," Washington said. "And then waking up in a hospital room and seeing my mom — I thought I was in trouble."
Responders on the scene were not so confident about Washington's recovery. While in the hospital, Washington was visited by the state trooper who filled out an accident report.
"He said he couldn't believe that I was still alive," Washington recalled. "He said 'I saw you and came home and told my wife, we gotta pray for this guy.'"
Community reaches out
Due to the accident, Washington hasn't been able to report to work at Residence Inn in Sandestin, where he works in maintenance. Washington is fortunate enough to have health insurance — his first two weeks in the hospital amount to $90,000 before insurance kicked in.
From the moment he was admitted to the hospital, Washington's friends and family have been there to offer support. From helping him at home to sending text messages of encouragement. Earlier this month, a couple of friends went above and beyond by hosting a benefit concert at The Palms in Destin, raising close to $8,000 for Washington. The idea came from his friend Nikki Thrash.
"An old boss, Jerry Turner came to help me and he got The Palms for the venue," Thrash said. "Soon the whole community started pitching in."
The benefit concert featured bands such as Heritage and Zero Hour, DJs and a live auction with close to $10,000 in merchandise.
"The first thing you see when you see Robbie is his big smile," she said. "When I went to visit him at the hospital, he was on medication and in pain, but he still had that smile on his face."
Washington couldn't make the benefit, but he still was thankful for the tremendous support.
"The way my friends rallied behind me just blew my mind," he said.
The long road to recovery
Washington spent almost three weeks in Sacred Hearth Pensacola and rehab. He wasn't even home for more than five days before an infection in his leg sent him back to the hospital for another two weeks.
Washington is seen as an inspiration among his friends and family through his inner and outer strength. Just one day after surgery when he had a plate and four screws implanted in his pelvic bone, he was up and exercising.
"You just can't let it beat you. I lost part of my leg, but I'll get a prosthetic, I'll be on my feet — or foot — soon,” he said, joking that metal detectors are the only thing he’s concerned about.
“Airports will just be the biggest obstacle."
Even with a prosthetic, Washington said his life will stay the same.
"It's not going to change much — except I won't be riding motorcycles," he said with a smile. "My mom would kill me."
Refusing to see the negative, Washington uses humor to get through even the worst days. He's antsy sitting in a wheelchair and looking forward to walking around and hanging out with his friends.
"It's a hurdle, a curb in the road," Washington said of his recovery. "But I'm blessed to be alive."
WANT TO HELP? You can help support Washington through an online fundraiser created by his friends. Visit www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/gwr3/robbie-washington and donate in any increment you choose.