From tragedy to triumph

By on July 17, 2019

Exactly one year after jet skiing accident, Ethan Sipe completes the Ephrata Firecracker

Ethan Sipe (bib number 613), surrounded by family and friends, gets a strong start in the Ephrata Firecracker 5-Miler. Photo by Missi Mortimer

Ethan Sipe (bib number 613), surrounded by family and friends, gets a strong start in the Ephrata Firecracker 5-Miler. Photo by Missi Mortimer

It was a celebration full of emotion and gratefulness as Ethan Sipe crossed the finish line of the annual Ephrata Firecracker 5-Mile Run held on July 4th. It was a year to the day of his tragic jet skiing accident that had put him in a coma.

“I just kept thinking about how a year ago, my whole life changed,” said Ethan Sipe, a 2014 Ephrata High School grad. “To see everybody there when I finished the race, my family, my friends, it was all very emotional.”

In 2018, Sipe’s family had gotten together with some friends to celebrate the holiday. Ethan, his twin brother Brady, and a couple others left to go jet skiing outside of town, and while out on the water, the Sipes collided, throwing Ethan through the air as he crashed into the water.

“He was lying face down and it all happened very fast,” recalled Brady, who swam over to Ethan right away, said. “I was very fortunate to have a lifeguarding background and to know to keep him above water until help came.”

The accident left Ethan with a broken pelvis and bleeding on the brain, which led to him being in a coma for a few weeks. Through constant treatment and physical therapy, Ethan worked his way back to being 100 percent healthy in only a few months.

“He just kept working hard and getting better,” Bob Sipe, Ethan’s father, said. “Every day there was more improvement. It’s just amazing, we got our son back after we thought he was taken away from us so suddenly.”

Ethan was backed by a lot of support from family and friends as well as the Ephrata community that surrounded him. He said his biggest supporter was his girlfriend Nikki Chappelle, who was always in the hospital with him and never seemed to leave his side.

Shortly after the accident, a GoFundMe page was created to help out the Sipe family with a $10,000 goal. The total quickly rose and ended up raising more than $20,000 for the Lock Haven University senior.

“I can’t say enough about how important the community was for our family,” Bob said. “It seemed like everyone wanted to help out in some way, especially our baseball community.”

Ethan is an assistant coach for the Ephrata Chryslers American Legion baseball team and shortly after the accident, a fundraiser game was held with him in mind. The efforts resulted in more than $6,700 being raised, all going straight to helping Ethan.

“That was the largest crowd I’ve seen at one of the games,” Brady said. “To see people I haven’t seen in years come out to support my brother was such an amazing thing to be a part of. That’s what our community is all about.”

The idea of running the Firecracker came to Ethan when he was rehabbing in the Hershey Medical Center. He knew that a goal like that would be something he could both accomplish and have his family and friends be involved in.

“My dad had the idea to make T-shirts and soon everybody jumped on board with the idea of me running,” Ethan said.

Finishing a five mile run a year after a major brain injury had Ethan thinking about how fortunate he had been. He placed 302nd out of 557 finishers in a time of 47:31.

“I have this motivation in the back of my mind now,” Ethan said. “There’s other guys who don’t get the opportunities I do anymore because of their injuries, so I make sure to make the best of them and keep on going.”

Moving forward, Ethan is ready to take on the rest of life with a strong body and mind after being on the honor roll for the first time in his college career this past semester. Being 100 percent healthy, he plans to graduate soon and get a teaching job.

“In the end, I learned a lot over the past year,” Ethan said. “I have a new sense of purpose and appreciation for my life. I’m both a better and stronger person now, which is something I am really proud of.”

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