- July 15, 2020
When I was in high school, a million years ago, I was a pretty good athlete. Not great, but still I was a decent football player and wrestler. No, this is not a sports story. This is a story about seemingly missed opportunities and how great blessings sometimes come out of adversity. Wrestling was going
When I was in high school, a million years ago, I was a pretty good athlete. Not great, but still I was a decent football player and wrestler. No, this is not a sports story. This is a story about seemingly missed opportunities and how great blessings sometimes come out of adversity.
Wrestling was going well in my senior year, and we were into the tournament phase of the season. In our first major tournament, which would decide if we would move on to sectionals, then states, I was doing well and ended up with a strong kid I had faced before. We had each beat each other in past encounters. Still, I was having a good season and was not terribly concerned. The match was going well for me, but I ended up in an awkward position, and at the last moment, my opponent turned and dropped, placing all of our combined weight on my knee. It sounded like two shots had been fired and, for a moment, my knee bent completely the wrong way. Ultimately I had to forfeit the match, as I was unable to continue.
Later, my head coach walked into the training room and said, “You only need to win one more match to move on to Sectionals.” I paused a moment, knowing that I was seriously injured, then with youthful naivety, said, “Alright, let’s do it.” (I am pretty sure that is not exactly what I said and that I swore a lot, as I was in tremendous pain, but you get the idea.)
With little more than a layer of athletic tape on my injured knee and barely able to walk, I went out to wrestle one more match. The plan was to win then forfeit the next match and rest until the next big tournament. The match was close as I wrestled on one leg. I would take my opponent down and let him back up over and over and over until he eventually became so frustrated that he went after my injured knee. I will be honest; I felt a little like Daniel after he had his leg swept in the 1980’s movie the “Karate Kid.” Back and forth we went until the last moments of the match where I was ahead and trying to run out the clock. Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, the buzzer sounded. I had won. My arm was raised in victory, and I limped off the mat. This sounds like a great story, and it was, but this is not where the story ends. It was, in fact, only the beginning.
As soon as I stepped off of the mat, my knee buckled and I collapsed to the floor, unable to get up. I knew in my heart that not only would I not make the next tournament, but I would never wrestle again. An emergency room visit led to an orthopedic surgeon’s visit, which ultimately led to extensive surgery. The surgeon, while very highly regarded, was still using an older, more invasive style of surgery where my knee was almost completely opened up.
These days, the surgery would be minimally invasive, and the patient would be moving around the same day and into physical therapy. Instead, I was placed in a brace from my hip to my ankle for months. Such lack of mobility actually caused premature osteoarthritis in my knee, extreme atrophy, and a frozen joint. Oh, did I mention I was not allowed to shower or get the brace wet during all of this time?
My leg was still incredibly weak as I finished my senior year of high school, and I was forced to wear a knee brace full-time. My injury and recovery consumed my thoughts as my doctor told me that I would never play sports again. I was devastated. I had also missed enough schooling that I was provided with a tutor.
My injury and recovery had certainly distracted me, and it was now springtime, and I needed to make a decision. I had gone on several college visits the prior summer and received several acceptance letters but was still undecided where I wanted to pursue an education.
I ended up speaking with my school guidance counselor. After I described my situation, he said, “I know the perfect place. It’s just like Ithaca. It’s on a hill and rains all the time. My daughter didn’t like it, but you’ll love it.” Not the best marketing pitch for a university, but what did I know? A visit was scheduled, and the weather happened to be perfect that day. I was hooked. I would be attending Lock Haven University in the coming fall.
I received my dormitory assignment in the mail that summer and discovered it was in a building appropriately named High Hall. The dormitory sat atop of what looked like thousands of stairs and, as I was still recovering from my injury, requested to be reassigned to a room on the main level of campus. After repeated phone calls, the housing office relented, and I was to room in one of the lower level dormitories.
What is the point of this long, drawn out story about a high school sports injury that happened almost 30 years ago? Well, if I had not been injured, I might have chosen to go to a different school to wrestle or play football. I would have had no reason to see a guidance counselor to whom I had hardly ever spoken, and I would have never learned about Lock Haven University. Had I not been injured I definitely would not have ever been placed in a prime dormitory location where I met the girl that was to later become my wife and have five beautiful children with her. This year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.
I do not believe in fate, but I have to believe that some things are so extremely unlikely that when they do happen, you have to wonder if there is some greater force behind them. God, the universe, or whatever it is you personally believe in. So you see, when you face adversity or even tragedy there sometimes is a silver lining.