Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Ten years ago, doctors informed Candace Jones she might not walk again and her days as a runner were over after her seatbelt ripped open her stomach and injured her spinal cord during a car crash with a drunk driver.
Defying the odds, Jones, now 28, doesn’t just walk — she runs competitively.
“Just having to relearn how to walk set a fire under me,” Jones said. “I’m going to run.”
At age 18, Jones spent three months recovering from the injuries she suffered on the night of Feb. 14, 2002.
Bruises had cluttered her small frame and two black eyes darkened her gaze after the accident.
Frightened of needles, Jones asked doctors not to give her shots. The next morning, she woke up stunned to find 22 staples — not stitches — were used to stop the bleeding.
She spent eight days in the hospital before she was sent home.
“Last thing you want to do is move back home and have your mom bathe you again,” she said. “It’s like being a toddler again.”
Jones was a freshman attending George Mason University in Washington, D.C. She doesn’t remember the collision but later saw images of the wreckage of her friend’s small Toyota Camry that T-boned a 1988 Mercedes-Benz.
She woke up thinking, “Am I dead?”
The collision occurred in Virginia on a dark residential street lined with trees and houses. Jones had been out with two friends for Valentine’s Day when a drunken 17-year-old boy jetted out in front of the Camry.
The events of that night, Jones said, put her life into perspective.
“It made me appreciate life a little more,” she said. “I’m not as invincible as I sometimes feel.”
Once paralyzed, she moved back home with her family. To avoid back surgery, she had to wear a $3,000 plastic brace that shelled her torso 24 hours a day for three months.
Jones relearned how to walk and went back to school in the fall. She was anxious to run, so she began training.
“My mom always told me I never learned how to walk; I just learned how to run,” Jones said.
A year after the accident, she was running again.
She got married in 2006 and in 2010 moved to Henderson so her husband, Brian, 29, could study medicine.
Usually Jones doesn’t think about the accident, or the scar that stretches vertically across her midsection. Every so often, she has a few aches and pains in her back, which act as a reminder of the crash.
She works from home as a public relations professional and takes care of her two boys, Evan, 4, and Owen, 3.
“I want to teach my kids the importance of a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
She now trains two hours a day, six days a week, running in scenic areas of Southern Nevada, such as the tunnel trails of Boulder City.
She can run a half marathon, or 13.1 miles, in about an hour and 40 minutes.
Jones is the only Nevadan selected for Snickers’ Marathon Bar sponsorship, one of about 150 athletes selected nationally. As Jones’ payoff from her sponsor, she receives Marathon Bar running apparel.
“My sister always laughs that I’m sponsored by a candy bar,” said Jones, adding that she reminds her sister Marathon Bars are energy bars.
This is her second year on the Marathon Bar team. As a sponsored athlete, Jones takes part in endurance races and community service events while wearing the Marathon Bar apparel. She’s raced in the Disneyland Half Marathon; the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon; and the Color Run, where runners were bombarded with fistfuls of colored cornstarch.
She tries to compete in at least one race a month. In local races, she’ll often place in the top three, and in national races she’ll end up in the top 20 percent.
“She excels in everything she does,” Brian Jones said.
He was there at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, pushing their sons in a double stroller along the Strip sidewalk.
“They get a big kick out of it when mommy crosses the finish line,” he said.