Viking Strong: One mom's long road to see her son play football
Strength, by definition, is the capacity of an object to withstand great force or pressure to be strong.
"Strength is everything. And I stand by that. My mom stands by that. Grandma, everybody, we're, we're all strong people,” said Julian Means-Flewellen, Niles High School senior.
The Niles Vikings are playing for their first regional championship in school history. It has been a dream year for Niles senior, and two-time captain, Julian “Juju” Means-Flewellen.
He's had a career season, playing both offense and defense with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, and 50 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks.
But something was missing.
Jennifer Flewellen was known for her outgoing personality and an infectious laugh.
Jenn was an athlete at Dowagiac High School and loved sports.
When her three boys were old enough, she signed them up.
“When they were really little, she always wanted to put them in sports,” said Peggy Means, Jennifer’s mom. “She'd say, ‘you know, sports keeps them out of trouble.’ And they was old enough for rocket football, she loved that. So always everything revolved around the kids."
September 25, 2017, as a busy morning for Jennifer, getting Julian and his brothers, Dayton and Skylar, off to school and hustling to get to work.
"She was on the phone with her husband, and she said ‘I feel lightheaded.' And then the next thing he said the phone went dead,” said Peggy. “And she'd went off the road and hit a pole.”
Jennifer crashed on Chicago Road in Niles. She wasn't breathing when paramedics arrived on the scene.
“The paramedics said, they usually only try three times with the heart compressions,” said Peggy. “And they tried the fourth time, and they got her back.”
But due to a lack of oxygen to her brain, she was induced into a coma.
“They told me that I shouldn't, I shouldn't keep her like this, because she's, if she was to ever wake up, she'd never, she'd never be able to function,” Peggy said.
Jennifer was 35 years old. And her boys? Skylar was 15, Daeton, 13 and Julian was 11.
Doctors said Jennifer would never fully wake up and the family should let her go, but Peggy and her boys refused to say goodbye.
“It's like, ‘no, you don't know that.’ Unless you're The Man himself,” said Peggy. “I think, you know, you don't know what the future is.”
For nearly five years, Peggy visited her daughter almost every day. Doctors believed Jennifer would never be aware of what was going on around her.
“I'd hold her hands and I'd say, ‘squeeze my hand,” Peggy said. “’You know, you could just squeeze my hand.’ And that never happened.”
But then, on August 25, 2022, Peggy cracked a joke. And for the first time, she got a response.
Doctors say she is a miracle.
Even after she woke up, they thought she would never talk or walk. But once again, Jennifer defied the odds.
Life is very different now. From IVs to doctors, Peggy cares for her daughter around the clock.
But her best physical therapy is her boys.
A lot changed while Jennifer was asleep: Skylar and Daeton graduated, and she never got to watch either of them play high school football.
“About a year ago, I had it in my mind that she was going to come to my game, she was going to come to my senior year, senior night and things like that,” said Juju. “I've talked about it for a while, and I dreamed of it and prayed for it, and it happened.”
Jennifer was there for her youngest son's senior night, and she watched Juju run for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns enroute to the Vikings’ first conference championship.
“Oh my gosh, just to have her here and be able to be awake is just everything,” said Juju. “For a while, I thought that it wouldn't happen. But now that it's here, it's just everything that I could have asked for.”
Things will never be the same, but Jennifer is back with her family.
And now, she's not only a mom - she's also a grandma to Nyla Anne, and they share the same middle name.
Jennifer can't be at the Vikings game Friday night because they are being extra careful with her as she gets ready to have intestinal surgery and can't risk being exposed to any infections.
Her fight is far from over, but her family hopes to get her into mary free bed rehabilitation center to continue her miraculous improvement.
And another first for the Flewellens: for the first time, they are able to look forward to a future together, and Juju tells me his goal is to have his mother at his graduation this spring, and then to hopefully even watch him play college football someday.