Growing up, I thought sure I had things figured out. From the time I was a little kid, my Dad had been grooming me to be a wrestler. Somewhere buried in a closet in his house is an 8mm movie reel (look that up if you need to…) of me kicking him in the shins, him falling down and me “pinning” him.
Entering my freshman year of high school, I thought sure that my path would be this:
Make the Varsity team as a freshman
Earn a Varsity letter all four years of high school
Get a scholarship to college
Graduate with a degree and get a good job and be “set” for the future
The only open spot on the wrestling team that I had a shot at was at 98 pounds. That’s right…I, as a freshman in high school, would need to lose weight AND win a match against a good friend to make the team and put the plan outlined above into motion. Losing weight in general sucks, but trying to suck ten pounds out of my already thin frame was brutal. But I did manage to do it, and I made weight.
I was thirty seconds in to the match I had to win against my friend Will, when I shot a takedown attempt that he saw coming. He sprawled backwards, as he is supposed to, to avoid my offense. He landed on top of me, my arms stretched out, and my chin hit the mat first. The position I was in was not good, and I heard something snap. The coach jumped in immediately, yelling “Stop, STOP! You’re hurt” At first, I wasn’t sure which one of us he meant. but I relaxed and rolled over onto my back. Then I started losing the feeling in my face.
“Whatever you do, don’t move. Stay put, I am going to get help” Coach said,, leaning over me. I began to panic, thoughts of being paralyzed raced through my head, and more and more of me started to tingle and go numb. I laid there, alone, trying not to move a muscle. Tears streamed down my face, but I tried not to make a sound. After what seemed like an eternity, Coach came back and said “Hold tight, ambulance is on its way”.
Fast forward a couple of hours and I am at Barrow Neurological Institute in downtown Phoenix. Back then, no one had cell phones and the school nurses’ office was locked, so no one could get in touch with my parents. Coach sat and waited at school, and eventually my Dad came looking for me when I didn’t come home from practice at my usual time. Coach told him what happened, and where I was. Meanwhile I was at the hospital, neck brace on, strapped down so I couldn’t move until an X-Ray and MRI could be done to see how bad the injury was.
I was fortunate that my injury was not to my spinal cord directly, but to a peripheral set of bones called your Transverse Process. That is what is pictured in the X-Ray image above. I torn ligaments in my neck, and would have to be in a neck brace for at least six weeks. My wrestling season was over in the blink of an eye. And as far as my life’s “plan”, well that was altered as well.
After the eight weeks past, I was out of the neck brace and able to start going some rehab and strengthening exercises on my neck. At some point I felt like I had made a full recovery, but I was not ready to get on the mats again. I had the real notion that I had dodged a bullet, and that injury was the first of many, possibly worse, to come. Bottom line was this: I was afraid to get hurt again. My wrestling career ended on that fateful day, with me on my back, tears streaming down my face, waiting for an ambulance to come and take me away
But, this is not a tragic story. I am not in a wheelchair, and my life took a very different turn when this occurred. Whether you want to call it “God’s plan” or Fate, or whatever, the Universe had a different plan for me. That is easy to see looking back on it. Hindsight is truly 20/20. At the time though, it was very difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that my plan, the one I was so sure of, was no longer my path in life. I was scared, depressed at times, and just plain unfocused. I was not a great student, so getting to college on an academic scholarship did not seem feasible. My family didn’t have a lot of money by any means, and I didn’t know much of anything about student loans at that time.
The only thing holding my attention in those days was playing racquetball. This is Part two of this post, and the installation of the new “plan” for my life….