— A terrible, split-second decision to hop a train changed one Colorado State student's life forever.
In September, Anna Beninati, then 17 and thinking she was "invincible," went train-hopping in Longmont, Colo., with three friends. While dangling off the side of a freight train, she was suddenly sucked underneath it and both of her legs were severed instantly.
In a stroke of luck, two employees from a nearby hospital were waiting in their cars at the crossing and sprang to action, saving Beninati from bleeding to death.
Only a few months later, the Utah native is a smiling, optimistic 18-year-old skiing enthusiast who is speaking out about the dangers of not thinking before acting.
"Life doesn’t end with an accident like this," Beninati told Ann Curry on TODAY Friday. "I was sitting there and I was thinking, 'OK, I can make a choice. I can either stop where I am and sit here and do nothing but wallow in self-pity and shake my fist about why I don’t have my legs, or I can choose to get over it and just move on.' I chose the latter."
“I’ve always known Anna is an incredibly strong individual, but to see her come away from this tragedy with this incredible attitude, truthfully, I learn more from her every day than I’m sure she’s learned from me,’’ her mother, Deborah, told Curry.
“There was definitely a lot of romance to the notion of train hopping,’’ Beninati told NBC News.
On Sept. 5, she and three friends were returning from a visit to Denver from their Colorado State campus in Fort Collins. Standing near an auto body shop sipping glass-bottle Cokes, the group of four friends talked about their plans to take a simultaneous leap. Beninati had done it before, and it’s not uncommon for Colorado State students to jump the trains, which run right through campus.
As the 18-mph train came down the tracks, one friend made it, while another stumbled and fell off. Beninati then made her decision to jump.
“I had a very clear feeling for several minutes before I even ran to that train just thinking, ‘Something tells me I’m not going to get on that train. Something tells me this is going to go really, really badly,’’’ she told Curry. “This is just not a good idea. I don’t feel right about this.’
“But I figured, I’m a teenager, I’m indestructible. I’m just being stupid; I can do this. So I went for it anyway, and I paid for it.’’
Beninati watched as the 118-car freight train severed her legs. "I remember looking down at my legs dragging on the ground, looking at the wheels and how fast they were going," she told NBC News. "I just remember looking down there and thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?'"
Beninati felt her femurs snap. As she lay bleeding on the tracks, passengers in the cars at the crossing looked on in horror. “I remember thinking very clearly that I was about to die,’’ she told NBC News.
That’s when two Longmont United Hospital employees — emergency medical technician Nicole Crowley and nurse Kathy Poiry — rushed onto the scene and controlled her bleeding. Beninati’s screams can be heard on the 911 call they made as one of the women exclaims, “Somebody just tried to jump on the train and severed her legs!’’
“If Kathy and I would not have been there, she probably would’ve bled out,’’ Crowley told NBC News. “She would not have survived.’’
“I’m thankful that at some point in my life I got to use my skills for something miraculous like that,’’ Poiry told NBC News.
Beninati has had 11 surgeries on her legs, and she returned to Longmont Hospital on Jan. 21 to present awards to Poiry, Crowley and the other emergency responders who saved her life.
“It truly was a blessing they were there,’’ she told NBC News. “I’m going to have to pay for it for the rest of my life, so I’ll never be able to forget this horrible mistake I made.’’
Beninati, an avid skier, now uses a monoski for her favorite sport. She still plays her favorite instrument, the bassoon, and is taking online courses at Colorado State toward her music therapy degree.
She also has been asked to speak to her fellow students about handling the freedoms of college life.
“Follow your gut,’’ she told Curry. “If you get that feeling that something’s not right no matter what the situation is — you’re walking home by yourself at night, you’re about to text and drive, you’re about to get behind the wheel of a car and you’ve had some alcohol — if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.’’