Less than a year ago, the word was that she might never walk again, let alone return to the stage. For singer Gloria Estefan, the road seemed to end on a snowy highway south of Scranton, Pa., where her tour bus was rammed by a semi-truck as she-napped in a forward cabin. The crash shattered a vertebra, nearly severing her spinal cord and leaving her in excruciating pain. Now, amazingly, as the anniversary of that March 20, 1990, accident nears, Estefan is on the road again-and going by bus.

Her first postrecovery performance came Jan. 28 on TV's American Music Awards show. A comeback album titled Coming Out of the Dark has been released (see review, page 21), and on March 1 she'll launch a yearlong tour in Miami. "I'm still a little paranoid in traffic," says Estefan, 33, "and I'll probably be a little scared to take a nap the first few days. But I'll get over it."

Band members may lose some sleep as well. While some performers—including rap's L.L. Cool J and heavy metal's Slaughter—have interrupted tour plans because of the gulf war, Estefan will take her Miami Sound Machine to Japan and Europe before beginning the U.S. leg of the trek July 5. "I hate for anyone, especially someone like Saddam Hussein, to control my life." she says. "I was supercareful the last time out. We waited until spring to start the tour, and look what happened. We were wrecked in a snowstorm."

Steering clear of snow for now, Estefan will spend the next two weeks rehearsing in Miami, where she lives with husband Emilio, 37, and son Nayib, 10, in a breezy, sun-dappled, five-bedroom waterfront home. The TV appearance two weeks ago "was a big step for me," she says. "Oh, God, my knees were knocking. My heart started beating so hard, I thought it was going to come out of my chest. Then it went down to my knees and I thought, 'Oh no, I won't be able to walk, and people will think it's because of the accident.' But as soon as I started singing, that was it. I was on my turf."

For Estefan, most of the outward signs of injury are gone now. The long, vertical welt of scar tissue on her back is just a thin white line. "The hardware," as she calls the two eight-inch steel rods fused to her spine, is invisible and impedes only the most wrenching moves. "I just have to make sure I don't do crazy things, like backflips off the stage," she says, Estefan still feels some hypersensitivity ("right on the tips of my toes and on the sides of my feet"), but nothing like the pain that caused sleepless nights right after the accident. Months of intensive—and painful—physical therapy, including weight training and aerobics, prepared her for the rigors of touring. And Emilio, who doubles as her producer, helped cure her post-crash depression and writer's block. Had it persisted, she says, there would have been no tour. "I looked forward to writing, but at the same time I feared it," says Gloria. "I kept thinking, it will come; it will come.' "

When three months passed and it didn't, Emilio lured her back to the studio "just to listen" to a song fragment he'd written as Gloria was being carried by air ambulance to New York City for surgery. "Emilio played the lyric, 'coming out of the dark," and I sat down, and it was so easy," she says. "Everything just tumbled out. We finished that song right there. I tried singing for the first time that day too. After that, I was in writing mode."

Recording may have been therapy, but it was her long, sometimes uncertain recovery that "has given me a renewed feeling about life," says Estefan. "It's very hard to stress me out now. It's hard to get me in an uproar about anything because most things have little significance compared with what I almost lost. And because of the fact that so many people got behind me and gave me a reason to want to come back fast and made me feel strong. Knowing how caring people can be, how much they gave me—that has changed me forever."