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Utah cheerleader receives emotional homecoming after having both legs amputated

"This isn’t going to define her life. She will do whatever she wants to do," Sarah Frei's mom told TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

A Utah teenager who inspired her community and people around the world by sharing her journey after having both legs amputated was greeted with an emotional homecoming parade.

Sarah Frei, 17, of Syracuse, Utah, was riding with three friends when their car was hit head-on by a drunk driver on July 30. When Frei left the Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital in Salt Lake City on Oct. 14, she was surprised with a homecoming parade.

Sarah with her family.
Sarah with her family.Courtesy Amy Frei / Ceryl Curtis

Doctors, nurses, physical therapists and the cheerleading squad from the University of Utah gave Frei a warm send-off as she headed home after enduring 20 surgeries. But her homecoming was just getting started. (Swipe below to the see all the great pics.)

WIth a police escort, Frei was treated to a welcome home parade. Friends, family and neighbors lined the street to support Frei as she settled back into life at home.

"I had no idea how many people would come. It was awesome," Frei told TODAY.

While many people in her community followed her journey via the @Strong.Like.Sarah Instagram account her family set up to share updates, Frei's story has also gained attention around the world. The account now has more than 59,000 followers who leave comments cheering her on with her rehabilitation and letting her know how much her smile and optimism inspires them.

“We get several comments a day on her Instagram page from strangers that say, 'You've inspired me,'" said Sarah's mom, Amy Frei. "It's amazing to hear. I told Sarah it is her smile and outlook. On one of her posts, she was talking to her aunts and how what happened has happened. There is nothing she can do about that. But she said, 'I can control my attitude and how I react.' That has been a good lesson for everyone to hear.”

Visitors were initially limited to one parent at a time at the hospital due to the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions were later loosened, so Frei was able to spend time with her five older siblings and friends.

In September, Sarah's homecoming dance date and two of her friends came to the hospital to "pick her up." They dressed up, wore masks and posed for photos before taking her with them ― virtually ― so she didn't miss out on the evening.

Frei also spent time in the hospital learning a dance her fellow cheer squad created for her. One day after she was released, she joined them at the final home game where she put on her uniform and performed with a big smile on her face.

“It was incredible. It was quite a moment, seeing how far she had come," mom said. " To see her, only two and a half months... At the beginning, we didn't know for a few weeks if she was going to make it. To see her up there performing with her team was a miracle."

While she's learning virtually from home for now, Frei said she is determined to make the most of her senior year and live her life to the fullest. After she graduates, she wants to attend college and become an elementary school teacher.

“She has such a positive outlook on this and is saying, 'I am going to be OK. Don’t be sad for me. I am going to be fine,'" Sarah's mom explained. "What is so cute about Sarah is when she is talking to her friends, nothing has changed. Now the question is: how am I going to get into my friend’s pool? It’s not I’ll never do this or that... it’s about how will I do it now?"

"It’s moving on and realizing this isn’t going to define her life. She will do whatever she wants to do."