Shaffer speaking

Stefanie Schaffer, who overcame losing both legs in an explosion in 2018, speaks at the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce annual meeting at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland in October.

Organizers of the Gift-of-Life Marathon are giving credit to this year’s ambassador, Stefanie Schaffer, for helping the blood drive meet and exceed its goal.

After the life-altering injuries she received in 2018, Schaffer, 23, of Rutland, knew how important it was for hospitals to have an adequate blood supply available, so she accepted the offer to be the public face of this year’s Gift-of-Life Marathon, or GOLM, which took place on four non-consecutive days earlier this month.

On Christmas Eve, Schaffer responded to a request for comment with a text thanking blood donors.

“Each day of the Gift of Life Marathon truly reminded me of how good the world can be. I was thankful for blood donations the first time (in 2018) because it gave me a second chance at life, and now I am thankful again, for everyone who came out to give someone else that chance. I was inspired by every one of the donors who made time to come out to this event, so thank you,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer and her mother, Stacey Bender, along with other family members, were on vacation in the Bahamas on June 30, 2018, when the tour boat they were on exploded, injuring Schaffer and Bender and killing a woman from Atlanta, Georgia.

To save her life, doctors amputated both Schaffer’s legs from above the knees, and she also suffered injuries to her spinal cord and brain which further complicated her recovery.

But Schaffer told the audience at this year’s Rutland Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting that she wanted to make a positive contribution as she was doing what she could to reclaim her life.

The organizers of the GOLM event, created to gather as many life-saving donations of blood as possible, were looking for a recovery of their own, according to a statement from Steve Costello, a Green Mountain Power vice president and co-organizer.

The GOLM collected 2,350 pints of blood in 2013, setting a national record that still stands.

“After we set the national record six years ago, interest had waned, but Stef helped create a lot of energy, and people moved by her recovery and attitude turned out,” Costello said in a statement.

This year’s goal was 600 pints, but through the four days, the goal was exceeded as 617 pints were collected.

Terry Jarrosak, who many Rutland-area residents know by his on-air name, Terry Jaye, program manager for Catamount Radio, said it had “been a while since we’ve done that.”

“It felt really good. I guess the biggest thing for me has always been, from an emotional side, trying to reconnect with people with the feeling we had at the Paramount Theatre when we were first reaching those goals. … I haven’t felt that way since six years ago. To me, it was all about reconnecting with that feeling of Christmas and the holidays and seeing people high-five each other and hug each other and hug Stefanie and hug Stefanie’s mom,” he said.

2019 was not just the year the GOLM exceeded its goals. Jarrosak was given in October, at the same annual chamber meeting where Schaffer spoke, a first-time award as Community Leader of the Year, for his support of projects like GOLM and other charitable events in the Rutland area.

But, while he was recognized, he said the most powerful part of that meeting was knowing he was sharing a stage with Schaffer.

“She makes us all want to do better. She makes us all want to try harder,” he said.

Jarrosak said he believed Schaffer deserved a lot of credit for bringing back the spirit of the GOLM.

“This guy came up to me, he goes, ‘Hey! Can I say hi to Stefanie?’ I say, ‘Yeah, she’s right there.’ He goes, ‘I need to tell her something. I need to tell her that I haven’t given blood in 15 years, and she’s the reason I’m here.’ You can’t make that up,” he said.

Schaffer said those who said they were inspired by her also gave her inspiration.

“It was humbling to see those people who were there for me. I had hoped I would have an impact in supporting this blood drive, but had been unsure if I would be able to make a difference, so seeing and hearing from all those people was simply amazing. It’s what will motivate me to continue to work hard, because I know I have too many people rooting for me to ever give up,” she said.

According to Costello, the 2019 GOLM was Vermont’s largest drive of the year.

“It will affect the lives of hundreds of families in the Northeast like Stefanie’s, and that is what it’s really all about,” Costello said.

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