Editor’s note. This column is a follow-up by Castleton football player Austin Crosier who suffered a neck injury earlier this season.
These past four months have been the ultimate test of patience and tolerance of pain. Daily occurrences of shooting pain from the nerve damage in my spinal cord spreads throughout my neck and right arm. The constant tingling sensation has become familiar, along with a major loss of strength in my whole body.
The emotional damage is as severe as the physical damage.
I became comfortable crying myself to sleep. The thoughts of not being able to play the sport that has given me my greatest memories, closest friends and lessons on how to approach life would rush through my mind like a blitzing linebacker.
But forget football for a minute. My life in general will never be the same after my injury. After consulting with neurosurgeons, the risk of losing complete feeling and strength in my right arm is higher.
The example they presented to me was that 10 to 15 years down the road, I may not be able to hold a coffee cup.
I may not be able to hold my children.
Scared to death, I looked over at my mother who was unsurprisingly wincing at that thought.
With all of these negative things racing through my brain, it was easy to fall into the deep, dark hole of depression.
However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
The doctors said that because there was no tear or fracture, that I could be medically cleared to return to football, at my own risk. The chances of being paralyzed for a short period of time are heavily increased.
But I have an opportunity to overcome the odds.
As soon as I found out the severity of my injury in the hospital, I made a promise to myself that I would not let this injury define me. I would do everything I physically could to try and make a comeback to again play the game of football again.
That meant fighting through the pain.
That meant sleeping through the pain.
That meant living in pain.
My parents were obviously concerned. More than anything, they were supportive.
“We want what’s best for you, but we can’t make this decision for you” my mother said.
What I thought was progress by participating in practice was actually making my injury worse. The radiating pain that I could feel flow from my spine, through my rotator cuff down to my fingertips would come at random points of the day.
After being told I couldn’t be medically cleared by team doctors, I decided to give my body what it was demanding and deserved, rest.
Sitting out for the rest of the season deflated me despite knowing that I was doing the right thing.
So, I talked to my coach.
Tony Volpone, the head coach of the football team at Castleton, has been more than understanding. When I approached him with the idea of me coming into the last game of the season, he was skeptical, but excited for me.
The last game of the season was at home against Alfred State. A rough road would culminate with coach Volpone sending me in to make the last snap of the game to quarterback Mitchell Caron, one of my best friends.
Being able to get the last snap of the game was fulfilling, but my parents weren’t able to make it to the game. My mother was in the hospital for atypical migraines that slurred her speech and gave her crippling headaches.
Luckily, my father was able to live-stream the game from his phone, and they watched me make the final snap from her hospital room.
My two biggest supporters were with me, as the journey came full-circle. They were both in tears as they saw how much being on the field meant to me.
As I continue to do rehabilitation and physical therapy to improve and strengthen my nerve damage, the goal will not change. I will not let this injury define me.
I need to prove to myself that I’m capable of overcoming a devastating injury and be able to perform at a higher level than before.
I will bounce back.