PONTE VEDRA, Fla. – A local teenager who was stabbed more than a dozen times outside of a Ponte Vedra Beach restaurant last month revealed during a news conference Friday that the attack left her paralyzed from the chest down.
Madison Schemitz, 17, was surrounded by her family and friends at Brooks Rehabilitation as she spoke publicly for the first time Friday, sharing an update on her recovery process and saying she believes everything happens for a reason. She said she will only look forward now.
WATCH: Press play above to watch a replay of Madison Schemitz’s news conference
“I’m incredibly lucky to be alive today,” Schemitz said. “I will take each day as its own opportunity to live and make a difference in the world.”
She plans to begin making that difference by starting a One Love Foundation chapter at her high school. The goal of the national nonprofit, named for University of Virginia student Yeardley Love, is to end relationship abuse by empowering young people with the tools and resources they need to spot the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Schemitz said she wants to educate and advocate for others so they don’t endure what she’s going through.
“I hope that by bringing the One Love movement to our community and one day sharing my story, it can help others and ultimately change the way we all treat and love each other,” said Schemitz, whose attack, according to investigators, came at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, Spencer Pearson, who is now facing multiple charges, including attempted murder.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office was at Schemitz’s news conference Friday but did not provide any updates on the month-old case.
During the news conference, Schemitz thanked the community for its generosity and support. A GoFundMe page set up for her family has raised more than $150,000.
“Just know how incredibly grateful I am for each and every one of you who have reached out, prayed or supported us in any way,” Schemitz said. “I have a really good support system behind me.”
She also thanked those who worked together to save her life the day of the attack, from the first responders to the trauma team at the hospital to her recovery team since.
Brooks Rehab physical therapist Sydney Dalton said Schemitz is one of the hardest-working patients she’s seen.
“No matter what I ask her to do, she’s ready and willing to put in the work for it. Whether she’s tired, physically and mentally, she’s still like, ‘Sure let’s go, let’s do it.’ Phenomenal work ethic, phenomenal character -- all in all a great person and hard worker,” Dalton said.
Schemitz saved a special thank you for Kennedy Armstrong, the man she credits with saving her life because he intervened during the attack.
“Kennedy is and forever will be my hero and is now family for life,” Schemitz said.
Schemitz’s mother, who was also severely injured in the attack, posted a photo Thursday to the GoFundMe page, showing her daughter meeting Armstrong, who was also at Friday’s news conference.
The post reads, “We got to meet our HERO Kennedy Armstrong! What an incredible young man, so blessed to call him family. Kennedy acted without hesitation or fear, and that is beyond admirable. The smile on Madison’s face remains priceless, no one can break my girl.”
Armstrong was injured when he dove into action after he and his friend Jimmy Stepp arrived at Mr. Chubby’s Wings on Valley Circle and saw Schemitz being attacked. Armstrong’s arm was sliced in the scuffle as he knocked the attacker off Schemitz. He needed surgery, but he is recovering.
Just days after the attack, News4JAX spoke to Armstrong, who recalled the moment he realized he needed to act.
“We pulled in to get food after work and I opened my car door and heard it,” he said. “I took off running as fast as I could. It was all just adrenaline. So much was going on until EMTs pulled up.”
Schemitz acknowledged she has a long, hard road ahead with her recovery.
“But I am determined and confident in myself that I will reach my goals to one day walk again,” she said. “My story is just getting started.”