TAMPA (WFLA) – WFLA Remarkable Woman Finalist Lt Col. Karen Mertes (Ret.) was just months away from fulfilling 20 years of service in the United States Air Force and on target to become a full colonel when an unfortunate twist of fate turned her world upside down. Yet she refused to allow this misfortune to dictate her destiny.
The daughter of German immigrants, Karen Mertes graduated from Boston College with a degree in statistics and a minor in German studies and worked her way to the rank of Lt. Colonel, before earning a Masters in Business from Strayer College, and moving on to become a USAF officer.
A two-time squadron commander, Mertes served in military intelligence, and later as a comptroller in charge of a $169 million budget.
She was stationed as far away as Japan, and as close as here in the Tampa Bay area at U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base.
Then, misfortune came her way. “My Life changed on February 7th, 2007,” she recalls.
That’s when on Interstate 75, a drunken driver traveling at 100 mph, rear-ended her vehicle.
“He broke my axle, shoved that into my transmission, so I didn’t have brakes or steering. I slid the equivalent of three football-field lengths before ever coming to a stop,” she said.
Although she did not know it at the time, the wreck left her with a fractured skull, and a traumatic brain injury. “I prayed and I asked God, if you bless me enough to live, I promise I will spend the rest of my life helping other people.”
Karen Mertes is keeping that promise, authoring motivational books, lecturing and by creating the Fulfill Your Destiny Business-Builder Grants non-profit organization.
“What I do is I look for local entrepreneurs and award $1,000 business builder grants. I am looking for the people where a $1,000 business builder grant will really help them get to their very next level,” Mertes said.
She continues, “That drunk driver – he changed my life. But I get to decide, what the rest of my life looks like and what I do with it. So, I choose not to be a victim, I choose to be victorious.”