University of Toledo cross country runner Janelle Noe had just finished her second workout since coming back from an injury. With a meet the following week — her first since her freshman year — she was feeling good.
She tells WTOL that when a fellow student athlete, then 20-year-old Christopher Housel, invited her to a party at his house, she enthusiastically agreed:
“I figured a couple other girls that didn’t go to the meet were going to be there, so I get there. I don’t drink, so I always go there as a self-proclaimed DD. And then hang out while I’m there.”
Noe had no idea at the time that attending that party would change her life forever.
While drinking the gasoline-like substance, Housel decided to play with fire. Noe recalls to WTOL:
“He took air freshener, and he was trying to light that on fire. And I told him 'stop it, you’re an idiot. You’re going to catch the house on fire' basically.”
But Housel, pictured below, did not listen to Noe's pleas. Instead, with the bottle of Everclear in one hand and a lit candle in the other, he began walking towards her.
“The next thing I know he poured it onto the candle and I was on fire. that's all I remember.”
The Everclear had ignited the flame and created a “fireball.” Noe burst into flames.
Feeling like “everything was closing in,” Noe vaguely remembers fellow partygoers yelling at her to “stop, drop, and roll.”
Her body covered in first, second, and third-degree burns, Noe was transported to the hospital where she spent “a significant amount of time.” Noe points out her injuries to WTOL:
“The ones up here on my chest were the deepest, and my neck, and they were concerned about those a lot. They said that if I would’ve burned seconds longer, I would’ve died, because the skin’s so thin there and you have all your vital organs right in this area.”
As a result of her injuries, she was forced to endure several painful skin grafts. She was also told that she would never participate in cross country again. It was a tough blow for Noe, and when she was finally released from the hospital, life became even more tough. She found herself in a very dark place; looking in the mirror was a struggle:
"I remember getting out of the bath tub sometimes and seeing myself and being like, thinking like, I look like a monster basically.
I just remember feeling sad and hopeless that things weren’t going to turn around."
Eventually, Noe was able to pick her head up, and when her doctors said she could start running, she began to feel like herself again.
Though she now has limitations, she knows that as she continues to recover those limitations would lessen. She explains:
“Even though it’s frustrating sometimes, it helps mentally too, to think wow at the beginning of this year I never thought I’d be able to do it again, but here I am.”
Noe acknowledges that her life is different now, but she's learning to live with it. Instead of looking back, she's constantly looking forward:
“I live in the present, but I also live in the future thinking about how it will get better, and just having a drive to not let it have limits set on myself because of it and just trying to get back out there.”
As a result of the incident, Housel was found guilty of criminal damaging and underage consumption of alcohol. He was sentenced to four months in prison and required to do community service at a local burn unit.
Noe is hopeful that his punishment will affect him in a positive way.