Miss Alabama USA Madeline Mitchell Overcomes Horrific Injuries, Heads to Miss USA Beauty Pageant

Once unsure if she'd walk again, Madeline Mitchell heads to Miss USA pageant.

June 16, 2011 — -- Madeline Mitchell was on her way to living her dream. She was about to compete in the Miss Alabama USA beauty pageant when tragedy struck.

"I was on my way home and ... a deer ran out in front of me," Mitchell, then 20, said of the September 2008 crash. "I actually hit the deer and lost control of my car and went off a 40-foot ravine and my car caught fire. I remember everything. The accident, it was horrible."

It was a moment of sheer terror. Her twisted, mangled car was on fire in the ravine. Mitchell and her boyfriend, both badly injured, were trapped inside.

"I did not think that I was going to live. I was just praying to God that a miracle would happen," Mitchell, now 22, told "Good Morning America."

She got her miracle. Walmart truck driver Gary Lewellen was driving by when someone else who witnessed the crash flagged him down.

"I stopped, jumped out, grabbed my fire extinguisher and go down there to put the fire out," said Lewellen, of Mississippi. "We really didn't know how bad she was hurt. I just knew it was bad because every time we'd try to move her, she would scream."

Mitchell remembers that Lewellen kept reassuring her that she would be rescued and taken to a hospital.

Emergency responders airlifted the Russellville, Ala., woman to the University of Alabama hospital. She spent 12 days in a coma while her parents, Suzanne and John Mitchell, kept watch by her side.

"John was leaning over her bed," Suzanne Mitchell said. "He kept saying over and over -- I never will forget it -- 'Daddy's here, Daddy's here.'"

John Mitchell said those memories still get him "choked up."

When she opened her eyes 12 days after the accident, she saw her father.

"He was standing over my bed, and he said tears just rolled out of my eyes," she recalled, shedding more tears. "I asked him, I said, 'Am I going to be able to compete in the pageant?' And, of course, he just rubbed my head and he's like, 'Not this year.'"

Mitchell's boyfriend also recovered.

However, doctors told Mitchell's parents that they weren't sure she'd ever walk again. Her leg had been broken in 12 places, she had broken ribs and other serious internal injuries.

But Mitchell did walk again after months of struggle.

"She just wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. Just would not," her mother told "Good Morning America."

And as quick as she was able, Mitchell began preparing to compete in pageants again.

She participated in the 2009 Miss Alabama USA pageant but failed to make the top 10. Undaunted, she competed again last year -- and won.

"When I won, I can't describe to you what I felt, because some people had told me I would never be able to compete again -- because I had so many scars," said Mitchell, who is in her final year as an education major at the University of Alabama.

Her scars haven't prevented her from setting her sights on the next crown. On Sunday, she will compete to be the next Miss USA at the Miss USA 2011 pageant in Las Vegas.

It's an almost perfect ending to an amazing story of recovery. It was made even better when "GMA" reunited Mitchell with Gary Lewellen, the truck driver who came to her rescue.

Tears flowed at the reunion, and Lewellen said he was proud of Mitchell's accomplishments.

The beauty queen says she simply wants to do her best in Sunday's competition.

"Win or lose, I've accomplished so many things in this last year," she said, adding that she hoped to be "a great educator, teacher" who would "encourage all my students to, you know, fulfill their dreams ... and keep going with what they believe in."

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