Two years after a drunk driver killed her husband, son and two stepsons, Amy Voelker hopes the power of her story will save other families.
While on vacation in Redington Beach in 2010, Voelker, the director of UCF’s University Audit office, woke up early one morning and realized the four men had not returned from a guys’ night at the movies. Soon, a police officer and victim’s advocate arrived at the family’s rental home and confirmed the worst.
Voelker’s husband, Elroy “Roy” McConnell II; her son, Kelly, 19; and her stepsons Roy III, 28, and Nathan, 24, all were killed when a drunk driver sped through a red light and hit them.
The tragedy devastated Voelker. She credits her UCF colleagues with helping her cope with her grief and adjust to life without her family.
“I’m so thankful for my UCF family,” said Voelker, a university employee for 22 years. “We are so good at supporting our fellow workers. There’s just something really special about UCF.”
More recently, winning a national AARP contest gave Voelker another important boost. A year before they died, her husband and her sons had convinced her to begin working out. However, she couldn’t bring herself to return to the gym after the tragedy.
Voelker entered an AARP contest for a fitness makeover, telling the organization that “feeling healthy and good physically helps give me the support to feel like being out there and reaching out to people and sharing my story.”
Voelker won a year of free personal training with Orlando trainer Nicole Copare, a UCF alumna. The pair have been working together for three months, and the sessions are going very well, Voelker says. She is pleased that she’s becoming more fit and strong while losing weight. She’s also ready to run her first 5K race this weekend – the RunNona 5K at Lake Nona.
The AARP contest gave Voelker a chance to tell her story to a crowd of about 150. She and Copare shared a stage with Leeza Gibbons and the winner of a financial makeover contest during an AARP conference this fall in New Orleans. She said she felt confident on stage, and the experience moved her closer to her goal of becoming ready to share her story at Mothers Against Drunk Driving events.
She is hopeful that she can persuade other people to make a plan for a safe ride rather than getting behind the wheel when they have been drinking. Voelker also can offer advice to those who aren’t sure how to help grieving friends or relatives as well as encouraging words to others struggling with grief.
Voelker said her UCF colleagues and her friends at University Carillon United Methodist Church made a huge difference with gestures such as dropping off meals and plastic plates and silverware. The Burnett Honors College and Student Development and Enrollment Services helped her son’s girlfriend, a UCF student, postpone her summer class final exam and access the Counseling Center’s free services for students.
People who are grieving don’t necessarily know what to ask for or how others can assist them, and it means a lot when people step forward and help without being asked, Voelker said.
Those coping with grief may get advice from many people. Voelker says they should know that it’s OK to handle the situation in whatever way is most comfortable for them. Some people may want to be alone, for example, while others may want to be around a lot of friends and relatives.
Like Voelker two years ago, people who are grieving also may find a lot of inner strength that they never thought they would have during such a difficult time.
“I think most people don’t realize how strong they are,” she said. “You really are a lot stronger than you realize when a crisis happens.”