FARGO — Imagine being too young to legally drive and being given a substance that eventually controls you, changes you and nearly ends your life.
At 12 years old, Chelsey Sitzmann was a strong-willed girl with a loud personality and a love for hockey. But an accident on the ice she loves so much would change her life forever.
When Sitzmann was 12, she had her fingers cut off by a hockey skate.
After her fingers were successfully reattached, she was given a prescription for the opioid pain killer OxyContin. It would mark the beginning of a lifetime of addiction.
For the next decade, Sitzmann suffered one injury after another and with each new one came another prescription.
“I don’t really remember a day where I wasn’t given OxyContin," Sitzmann said.
She spent the next 10 years — the rest of her high school and college sports career — on painkillers.
“I felt great, I felt like I was on top of the world and I never wanted to come off of it," she remembers.
By the time Sitzmann turned 21, she was enrolled at the University of Minnesota, but was no longer playing sports and was severely addicted to pain pills. To keep up with her addiction, she turned to drug dealers.
Sitzmann met two men in the agriculture program while in school who she spent nearly every day with for three years. All three of them suffered from addiction. Eventually, one of them, who Sitzmann said also suffered from other personal struggles, would die.
“The addiction made that so much worse," Sitzmann said. "He ended up taking his own life with pills and I guess that’s when I knew how serious it could get."
Sitzmann said 24 of her friends have died throughout her journey with addiction.
After the loss of her close friend, she tried to cope by using — but now it was more than pills. Heroin entered the picture. For the next three years, she tried to quit over and over again.
“You just feel so gross; you feel like a failure. Why can’t I stop?" Sitzmann remembers thinking.
Eventually, she had enough. Sitzmann called out for help and her aunt, Kathryn Burgum, answered.
She then entered treatment. For a time, Sitzmann started to improve.
“The best thing I’ve ever heard was my sister saying: 'I don’t have to be scared around you anymore,' " Sitzmann said.
But the relief didn't last. Eleven months later, she had another surgery and another prescription led to relapse.
On New Year's Eve in 2018, she was clean again, but ran into an old drug dealer friend in downtown Fargo.
“'I’m clean. I’m not doing this anymore," she remembers telling him. "And he goes, 'you know, I’m proud of you' and he stuck his hand out to shake my hand and I — like an idiot — I stuck my hand out and he gave me a bag of heroin."
The temptation was too much — Sitzmann relapsed. On Jan. 26 Chelsey visited another dealer. The last thing she remembers is seeing two piles; one brown, one white.
The next day, a friend refreshed her memory. Sitzmann overdosed on what she thinks may have been pure fentanyl. That friend gave her three doses of Narcan, put her in the box of a pickup truck and then threw her into a snowbank.
“You left someone in a snowbank after you gave them three rounds of Narcan and you thought that was going to be fine?" Sitzmann said. "You didn’t report it? You could’ve called police, or called 911 when I’m laying in the snowbank and say it’s my address."
That was it for Sitzmann. She quit cold turkey and entered peer support. Today, she's set on keeping her story from repeating itself ever again.
She and a friend are starting an initiative called "Be Legendary," where she will share her story to schools with the hope of convincing kids, parents and administrators that talking about addiction is the first step to ending it.
“I think I would’ve asked for help had I not thought I was going to get kicked off the team, or had I not thought that a college would find out," Sitzmann said.
The other message Sitzmann hopes to spread is that it's OK to make mistakes in life. What matters is what you do to learn from those mistakes and change.
“The ultimate end game (is that) we stop losing kids in this community," she said.
A 15-year journey that started with an innocent girl in a hockey accident, will now continue with the same girl, now a woman, doing her best to save others from living the same story.
“My addiction was a blessing and a curse that was given to me when I was 12 years old, and I’m just now figuring out what to do with it," she said.
Sitzmann hopes her initiative will officially start up this winter. The first school she presents to will be her alma mater Fargo North High School.
Anyone with interest in the "Be Legendary" initiative can contact Sitzmann by email at email@example.com