Life was great for Tamati Paul in 1998 - he was a top kapa haka performer, a champion surf lifesaver, dad to a young son and planning to bring home an Olympic gold medal in kayaking.

That all changed in an instant when Mr Paul, his partner and son were on the road between Gisborne and Tolaga Bay and a drunk driver, travelling at 165km/h on the wrong side of the road, collided with their car.

Students at Rangitikei College watched the ACC-sponsored film documenting the crash and its aftermath which showed the wrecked vehicles at the site and Mr Paul's injuries which included serious brain damage, a collapsed lung, loss of full eyesight and virtually every bone in his right side shattered.

After 16 hours of operations and many months in hospital, Mr Paul was nursed by his devoted parents who described how they would strap his body to a board when they needed to bath him.


The prognosis was not good and it was doubtful that Mr Paul would ever walk or speak again.

After watching the film, students were stunned when the man himself walked on to the stage unaided and said:

"You fellas see me walking? You fellas hear me talking?"

It has been a long, hard road but Mr Paul has made a new beginning from his shattered life and is now married with three young daughters and his son Khama, who was in the crash with him.

Strapped in to his car seat in the back of the vehicle, Khama survived because his father's body took the full impact of the crash. He is now a teenager.

The driver of the other car died at the scene and Mr Paul said he has been able to forgive him and get on with life.

Horizons Regional Council roadsafe co-ordinator Glenda Leitao, who arranged the Rangitikei visit, said Mr Paul's message resonated with young people.

"He shares his story to encourage others not to make the same mistake as the driver that hit him and his family."

Rangitikei students were visibly moved and many of them stopped to talk with Mr Paul afterwards.

"His story really touched me," said 16-year-old Monika Wirihana-Tawake. "His resilience and never-give-up attitude are amazing."

"He's an inspiration to everyone," said Joey Hamahone, 17.

"Words can't explain it really - I feel truly humbled," said 15-year-old Dylan Harris.

Students performed a haka for Mr Paul at the end of his delivery and he answered with one of his own.