Tracey Perry walks quietly down the access ramp, her hands in her pockets, staring up at the guardrail and the traffic speeding along the Trans-Canada Highway.
She's back at the scene of the violent car crash she was in last March and believes her boots are somewhere in the ditch, under the fresh layer of snow.
She admits she's surprised by her reaction.
"It's not that upsetting," she says. "It's a bit liberating to be here."
She points to a new section of guardrail.
"That must be where we came through," she said.
"I feel like I cheated death."
It's been nine months since Perry, the MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune, and Cletus MacDonald, her common-law husband, were involved in the crash.
She is nearly completely recovered, although she is still dealing with some soft-tissue injuries.
"I just pray to God that I'm still alive," she says.
On her way
Perry knew from an early age she wanted to be a politician, and she accomplished her goal much earlier than she ever imagined.
But her first year in politics has been one she won't soon forget.
She was nearly killed in a car crash just five months after being elected, spent months recuperating from a serious neck injury that forced her to attend House of Assembly sessions last spring wearing an unwieldy neck brace and is only now finding her stride after what she describes as a steep learning curve.
Perry was one of 44 Conservatives who won seats in an electoral romp for Premier Danny Williams on Oct. 9, 2007.
After eight years as the executive director for the Coast of Bays regional economic development board, and at only 37 years of age, she was on her way.
She was excited about bringing her passion and hope for the Connaigre Peninsula to the government's agenda and building on what is shaping up to be a blossoming aquaculture industry in the region.
But it all came to a crashing halt at about 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5 as Perry and MacDonald were driving to St. John's from their hometown of St. Alban's.
The House of Assembly was scheduled to open the next week and Perry was anxious to get a headstart on things.
During the drive, she was leafing through reams of documents related to her new job, making notes and highlighting passages in the text, as MacDonald drove their Pontiac.
Moments after a radio advisory warned of hazards on the Trans-Canada Highway, MacDonald had to swerve to avoid a large bag on the road.
A few minutes later, after cresting a hill at Butter Pot Park, roughly 30 kilometres west of St. John's, another object appeared in their lane.
MacDonald again swerved to avoid what was later identified as a garbage bag filled with straw.
The road was dry and the car was equipped with studded winter tires, but the vehicle spun out of control.
It smashed through a guardrail and rolled five or six times down a sloped embankment, coming to rest on its wheels on the shoulder of the park's access road.
MacDonald stumbled from the car, with only bruising on his left leg and right shoulder.
Perry wasn't so lucky.
She was bleeding from a gash on her head, had suffered a concussion, and had broken a bone in her neck.
Fortunately, two off-duty paramedics were travelling in the same direction and witnessed the crash.
Without their intervention, Perry might be quadriplegic today.
Fearing she had a neck or spinal injury, her rescuers refused to let her out of the car, despite her insistence that she could. They comforted her for about 45 minutes while they waited for emergency personnel to arrive.
She was eventually placed on a backboard and taken to hospital in St. John's.
The broken bone in her neck, she was told, could have easily sliced into her spinal cord if she had been moved improperly.
"I could have been paralyzed for life," she said.
The crash was so violent that she was told only a rear tail light could be salvaged from the car. Even the battery was ejected as the car flipped.
Perry believes her life was spared for a reason.
"I've got to do something good for people," she said.
Early in her recovery, Perry was completely dependent on family members.
She said the experience gave her a new appreciation for the challenges faced by people with disabilities or seniors who have lost their independence.
She made her first appearance in the legislature about a month after the accident, but it was many more months before she could function at the pace she was accustomed to.
She said not all her constituents understood what she was going through.
"I felt like I was letting people down," she said.
But it's now full speed ahead for Perry. In addition to her duties as MHA, she is legislative assistant to Innovation, Trade and Rural Development Minister Shawn Skinner.
"At the end of the day, if I can make a difference in the lives of the people back home, then I'll feel like I've achieved something," she said.
Some facts about Tracey Marie Perry, Conservative MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune:
Born August 1970, the youngest of 13 children. Her parents were Gordon Joseph and Mary Alimeta Perry (now deceased);
Raised and continues to reside in St. Alban's, a town of just under 1,300 residents on the south coast;
Graduated in the Class of 1988 from Holy Cross School in St. Alban's;
Completed bachelor of commerce (co-operative) degree from Memorial University in 1993;
Established and operated consulting firm for two years beginning in 1993;
Executive director for the Coast of Bays Corp., a regional economic development board, from 1995 to 2007;
Elected Conservative MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune October 2007, garnering 63 per cent of the popular vote;
Endured months-long recovery following single-vehicle car crash on Trans-Canada Highway on March 5.
Source: Tracey Perry