Catawba students learn about the dangers of alcohol
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY - Walking a straight line was a breeze for Sloan Kessler before she strapped on a pair of goggles Monday.
After the goggles were wrapped tightly around her head, the Catawba College sophomore couldn't even find the line she was supposed walk, much less glide gracefully along it.
That's because the goggles weren't for safety or swimming, but awareness. The "drunk goggles" imitate the feeling of being impaired by alcohol.
"It was really difficult," Kessler said of trying to pass the sobriety test with the goggles on. "It just goes to show how much alcohol can affect you."
Catawba senior Buster Phillips said wearing the goggles made walking in general a lot harder than he expected. He said the exercise was a good reminder of just how dangerous alcohol can be.
"In general I think drinking and driving is stupid, so I wouldn't' do it anyway," he said.
N.C. State Highway Patrol, Rowan County Sheriff's Office and Alcohol Law Enforcement officers were on hand Monday to give the students a chance to take a sobriety test and steer a golf cart through an obstacle course while wearing the drunk goggles.
The exercises were part of a series of events to coincide with National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness week.
"We want students to know the serious public health issues posed by excessive drinking," said Shane Flowe, the college's director of public safety operations.
Flowe said the annual events give students a hands-on experience that they aren't likely to forget.
"Once students realize the effect alcohol can have on them, they kind of have a moment of clarity," he said.
Speaking from experience
Scott Maloney gave nearly 500 Catawba students a glimpse at how a night of drinking changed his life.
"I am here today because I am the king of poor decision-making and have suffered the consequences," he said.
As a senior at Becker College in Worcester, Mass., Maloney left his dorm room on Sept 18, 2004 on top of the world.
"I was an average student and an above-average athlete with a way above average life enjoying everything life had to offer," he said. "I've lived through an unspeakable nightmare, the likes of which are incomprehensible."
Maloney, 29, ended up living in a dorm his senior year after off-campus living arrangements fell through, but he wasn't complaining because he could easily walk to nearby bars.
"On that Friday night I was out with friends walking from party to party, having a few beers here and a few beers there to make the night more interesting," he said. "But a few beers is all it takes to impair decision making."
When Maloney arrived home that night without his keys, he decided to climb a tree and scale the building in an attempt to reach his room.
"Instead of calling campus security to let me in, the alcohol gave me a false sense of courage," he said.
As rain fell, so did Maloney. He ended up the hospital where doctors told his family to begin saying their goodbyes.
"I was brain dead as of 3 a.m., but my parents would not give up," he said. "They pushed, they pulled, they begged, they pleaded and they prayed for an emergency surgery.
"They said 'Give him a chance and we'll give him a life.'"
Following four hours of brain surgery in which a large portion of his skull was removed, Maloney was in a coma for 23 days.
"My skull could not be replaced until months later when doctors were sure all the swelling from my brain had subsided," he said.
When he finally awoke, Maloney was unable to walk, talk, eat or even breathe on his own.
"There I was the MVP of my college cross-country team, runner of the Boston Marathon three years in a row and now my greatest achievement was being able to squeeze my left hand," he said. "I was considered one of the lucky ones, I was like the underdog in the game of life, no one expected me to live."
When Maloney finally made it back home and began physical and occupational therapy, the emotional trauma of the night began to set in.
"My 7-year-old brother was rushed to the hospital, he kissed my bloody forehead and told me he loved me," he said.
Maloney started pushing his family and girlfriend away.
"I didn't want their pity, I didn't want the to see me in my weak state," he said.
Although Maloney's family wouldn't budge, he eventually lost his girlfriend.
"I wish I could go back, now I'm on match.com," he said.
Eight years later Maloney said he still walks with a limp and struggles to run the way he used to, but he's making strides.
That's why he's taken his message on the road, traveling to colleges and high schools across the country to share his story as a warning.
"Don't just listen, but really hear me," he said at the start of his presentation. "When things are getting just a little bit more out of hand than they should, if you remember a small piece of my story it might save your life."
Maloney encouraged students to bring along a designated sober friend with them when they go out drinking to ensure no poor decisions are being made and he reminded them not to fold to peer pressure.
"What's the only type of fish that swims with the current at all time," he said. "A dead one."
Sarah Rossini, the college's assistant dean of resident life, said she asked Maloney to speak to the students because "he's real and his story is real."
"We participate in the alcohol awareness week every year, but we try to do different things," she said. "I've actually known Scott since high school and so I knew he was somebody who could really reach our students."
Freshman Brittany White said she was struck with how Maloney's family was impacted by his decision to drink and act recklessly.
Maloney's story made freshman Patrice Adams realize "it doesn't take much" to be impaired.
Senior Brandi Cockerham said Maloney delivered his story in a very effective manner by being interactive and quoting song lyrics that sparked laughter.
"It didn't feel like he was talking at us," she said. "It felt like he was talking with us by always looking for audience participation. That kept us more interested rather than sitting here listening to someone rambling on."
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.