On Valentine’s Day 2016, bride-to-be Anna Claire Waldrop was driving home from a party with her fiancé, James “Jimbo” Waldrop, when a reckless drunk driver changed her life forever.
The couple, at the time both seniors at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, noticed a car coming up behind them, speeding.
“[The driver] was someone we knew actually, because it’s a small town,” Anna Claire, 24, tells PEOPLE. “He hit my side of the car and Jimbo flew through the sunroof. I stayed in the car, which flipped four times.”
The accident left her a quadriplegic.
“I was very scared,” says Anna Claire, who had already picked out a venue for her nuptials nine months away. “I wondered ‘Will I ever be happy again?’ But the thought of my upcoming wedding was motivation to get better.”
And after months of therapy, the high school sweethearts tied the knot on their originally planned wedding date, October 22, 2016.
“It was emotional thinking about having to be in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic for my wedding, instead of everything I had always envisioned,” says Anna Claire. “But it was beautiful and I’m finally happy now.”
Anna Claire can now wiggle her toes and has improving hand grip.
Jimbo, who works as a middle school football coach and science teacher, is crafting a gym in their house to assist with his wife’s rehabilitation.
“We are loving married life,” says Anna Claire, who is pursuing a career as a speech therapist. “I try not to focus on what I’ve lost, but try to focus on what I have already — and that’s my advice for anyone who has gone through something like I have.”