'I had to start from ground zero': Westport native pens memoir on comeback

WESTPORT — Mike Krysiuk points to one major moment as a turning point in his life — a tragic car accident that left him in a coma and changed his perspective forever.

“I had everything going for me and I lost it all,” said Krysiuk, 63, who now lives in Stratford. “I had to start from ground zero, below ground zero.”

His new memoir, “The Big One: Miracles Happen When You Shoot for the Sun” chronicles his comeback from the traumatic experience through perseverance and the support of family. Krysiuk said the story is a message of hope.

“I wanted to get my story out to people to show you that you shouldn’t lose faith,” he said.

The Fairfield University Bookstore will host a virtual book launch for the new memoir on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. as part of its own free Facebook Live event.

Krysiuk was raised in Westport and has worked at town hall for over 20 years. He was 17 and a Staples High School senior when the accident occurred. On the fateful day he decided to ride shotgun on a beer run with a classmate. His friend, he said, was driving over 100 miles per hour when Krysiuk asked him to slow down.

“The gears locked, the brakes locked, and we went into a skid,” Krysiuk said. “We skidded across the street, and I remember seeing a big pile of dirt and a big, black shadow next to that pile of dirt.”

The shadow was a bulldozer, he said, which the car ended up hitting after skidding into the dirt pile.

“I was lucky I put my legs on the dashboard,” Krysiuk recalled. “If I didn’t I may have lost both legs at the socket because the engine came and hit the bottom of my seat.”

The car mirror hit him in the face cutting him in several places. Krysiuk said his friend was out of the hospital in seven days, while he was left in a coma for six weeks.

When he woke up, he discovered his 6’4”, 185-pound frame and now measured 6’6”, 66 pounds and he was a quadriplegic. He would go on to learn how to talk and walk again following the accident.

“I was a good student,” he recalled. “But I walked in other people’s shadows... I got lost in those shadows and I almost lost my life.”

Julia Bobkoff, who co-authored the memoir, said she would sit with Krysiuk twice a week and ask him questions to help flesh out the story.

“An interesting thing when somebody goes through trauma like that, a story doesn’t just come out crystal clear,” she said. “There will be things we figure out even six months after writing that may not have got in.”

Bobkoff said she was drawn to Krysiuk’s story having gone through a traumatic experience herself after having a promising track career cut short.

“I had an illness when I was 17, and I was a top athlete like Mike,” she said, adding she similarly had to fight to return to health. “I think God puts people together, and we don’t understand why until later.”

For Krysiuk, he said one scene plays vividly in his head during his time in the coma. He remembers running through a green pasture seeing memories throughout his life pass by and noticed he did not have a shadow behind him when he suddenly heard a voice.

“It said ‘Mike do not follow other people’s shadows, stay out of those shadows,’” Krysiuk said. “It said ‘shoot for the sun in everything you do.’”

After hearing the voice he saw the sun suddenly rise, he recalled. When he awoke from his coma he was not aware of how long it had been since his eyes were last to open.

“In a coma you don’t have a sense of time,” Krysiuk said.

But the moment and saying he heard would follow him to this day. He said he hopes his memoir shares a similar message and can inspire others to persevere.

“I say this saying to everybody, ‘I shot for the sun in everything I did because even if I miss I’ll land among the stars’ — and that’s a great place to be,” Krysiuk said. “If I didn’t do that I might not be sitting here.”