A smiling Emily Beul sat and chatted at a table with her friends, as they ate barbecue and occasionally stopped to take group photos.
If not for the steady stream of friends and well-wishers approaching Beul, it might have been hard to tell the event was in her honor. On March 8, she was in a serious car wreck that left her in a coma with a traumatic brain injury and a crushed pelvis. But Beul, who was a senior at Blair Oaks High School, is making an impressive recovery.
Still, it's not enough for the anxious teen, who looks forward to her doctor giving her the OK to return to her job at Schnucks and start college. She also wants to get back behind the wheel of a car, although she acknowledges being "kind of scared" at the thought.
"There's so many people," she told a reporter during the event. "I'm glad that a lot of people came to enjoy this, and that people are touched by what we're going through," she said.
Her parents, Mike and Terrie Beul, and her four brothers were among about 400 attendees.
Money raised from Sunday's event will go toward Beul's medical bills. Her mom says Beul is hoping enough will be left over to start a fund for her to buy another car at some point.
It was snowy when she was driving on Christy Drive near Big O Tire when her car was hit broadside by a truck. One of the first people on the scene was Colin Wright, a responder from Cole County EMS, who also came to give Beul his regards at Sunday's fundraiser at the Wardsville Lions Club.
"I can't believe she's already up and going again," he said at the Project Emily event.
Beul has gone from 10 days in the University Hospital intensive care unit to more than 11â„2 months at Rusk Rehabilitation Center in Columbia. She was released home on May 8, exactly two months after the wreck. She still goes back to Rusk for outpatient rehabilitation three days a week.
For Beul, who typically ran six miles a day, the wreck not only crushed part of her body, but it crushed her spirits. She faced depression on top of her physical challenges. "I felt disabled and felt helpless because I couldn't walk," she said.
Now, she said, she's not always positive and not always negative, but she's learned to "go with the flow." She uses video games and an iPad as part of her rehabilitation.
She's relearned to talk and she now walks - wobbly but unassisted.
The wreck impacted the left side of her body, some of which still has a numbfeeling. And it damaged the left side of her brain, which controls the right side of her body. So she's still learning to control her right side.
That issue could continue or could improve. She might make a 100 percent recovery. It's too early to tell, her doctors tell her. But she's continuing to make great strides.
"I still have a long ways to go, but I'm making the best of it," she said.
Just three or so days after her wreck, Beul was putting to use her two years of sign language courses in high school, signing simple words such as "yes" and "no." Soon, a sign language cheat sheet was put above her bed for her doctors and nurses to communicate with her.
Now, Beul says she wants to major in sign language interpretation, possibly working to help patients with similar injuries to communicate with their medical staff and vice versa. "I see myself working at a hospital or rehab center," she said.