By Jeff Guy

When Jared Estes was in the process of rebuilding his life after experiencing a horrific tragedy, people told him he had to reach down deep within himself to rebound.

“I think that's false,” Estes said in a telephone interview. “It wasn't until I got outside myself and realized it's not about me that I was able to come back.”

Estes found strength in reaching out to others and telling his story – how he and his wife of six months, Paige, were leaving a hockey game at the Kansas Coliseum in 2005 when a drunk driver hit their car, causing a fiery crash.

With burns to much of his body, Estes and two friends escaped. Paige never made it out of the car.

For the past few years, Estes has been sharing his story before corporate audiences, schools and soldiers on military bases. Estes is scheduled to speak at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 11 (Veterans Day) at the Twilight Theatre. Admission is free but people are encouraged to call the theater at 723-1092 to reserve seating.

Estes views veterans and active duty military personnel as models of courage.

“All of us in the civilian world kind of look up to them,” Estes said. “A lot of us, we're forced into darkness and have to find our way out, but they sign up for the military, knowing they might be sent to dark corners of the world and have to fight their way out. That's true courage.”

Estes tailors his presentations to the various audiences he addresses, but the over arching message is resilience, he said.

“I try to show everybody that there is a way out if you keep pushing forward,” Estes said.

Adam Wagner, manager of the Twilight Theatre, said Estes has incredibly turned tragedy into a gift and the theater wants to promote that.

“I think he gives people a more pro-active thought process,” Wagner said. “Arming people with hope and with a positive outlook certainly is a super weapon.”

“I try to use my story to say it's everyone's story,” Estes said.

Everyone has struggle and hardship. Everyone has to fight their way through depression, he said.

“We're in the same boat in that respect,” Estes said.

Wagner said Estes “has such an incredible and infectious energy. I knew I wanted to work with him.”

Estes gets hired to speak to a lot of private groups where he is not open to the larger public, Wagner said.

“We wanted to present an opportunity where anyone who wants to hear him speak can do it,” Wagner said. “Jared speaking is a gift that may not come around again for a while.”

Estes's presentation will sell his work to the public, but it will also promote the Twilight Theatre and Media Center. All three are working together.

As he is speaking, Estes's talk will be live streamed on and Estes's website, Audience members and people watching on video can tweet messages, using the hash tag, #firebackveterans, and their comments will appear on a screen behind Estes as he is speaking.

“People all over the world can watch it,” Wagner said.

Grant Neuhold, creative director of the Media Center, wore a red T-shirt with the words, “Fire back veterans” across the front. Neuhold called Estes an “inspiration.”

Estes said the lessons he relays through his talks are things he, like everyone else, has to work on day in and day out.

“I don't claim that I have it mastered by any means,” he said.