Imagine this: you’re lying on the ground on your back. You can’t move your hands or your legs. The tears start rolling down your cheeks as all of your worst nightmares start to creep into your brain. Everything you have worked for and dreamed of is being ripped away, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.
Now what if I told you that this is reality.
Playing football for 15 years has taught me a number of important life lessons. Being patient, however, was not one of them.
After completing a drill with a defensive lineman from Saint Lawrence University of Canton, New York, I was thrown down to the ground face first, hearing and feeling distinctive crack in the back of my neck. I opened my eyes and felt a sharp pain along with numbness and tingling radiating from my neck all the way down my right arm.
I immediately found an athletic training student, who just so happened to be one of my roommates, as I was clutching on to my arm. She asked, “is it your arm?”
I responded, “No, it’s my neck, I can’t feel my arm.”
Bethany had me lay down on the hot turf of the football field and radioed over the head athletic trainer to assess me. As soon as I was flat on the ground, the pain and numbness rushed all the way down to both arms and legs.
Head athletic trainer Ed Wozniakewicz got down on both knees and started to talk to me.
“Hey bud,” he said. That’s his go-to introduction.
After telling him that I couldn’t feel my arms or legs, Ed asked me to try and squeeze my fingers and wiggle my toes. I tried as hard as I could and saw a little bit of movement, but it was definitely restricted.
“You’re doing great, Crosier!” he said as the rest of the crew was trying to keep me in a positive mood.
With tears welling up in my eyes, I remembered that my father and sister had come to watch me play in the scrimmage.
“BIG LEE!!!” Yelled Will Mossop to my dad. He’s a junior linebacker, as well as my best friend.
My father came to me, bent down and told me everything is going to be alright.
I didn’t believe him.
As I was being cut loose from my shoulder pads and helmet, I could hear Ed say to a student, “call 911.”
The scrimmage was stopped, allowing the ambulance to rush across the field. The EMT’s carefully transitioned me from the ground onto a stretcher. Before I was wheeled onto the ambulance, I could hear a thunderous sound of clapping coming from both sides. I mustered up the ability and strength to throw up a “thumbs up.”
I was going to be okay, I told myself.
Then I arrived at Rutland Regional Medical Center and five minutes into meeting my doctor, he said something I will never forget.
“Austin, I’m sorry to tell you this, but I think you broke your neck.”
Nineteen years old and a broken neck? This can’t be true. They’ve got the wrong guy.
The fear and overwhelming feeling of deflation was huge as the nurses of the emergency room rolled me into a room. The first people through the door were my dad, my sister Maryssa and my roommate Meg.
I was doing a good job managing my emotions until I saw my sister. Having to see your brother lifeless on a gurney at the age of 19 is something that no 13-year-old girl should ever have to experience. I made an effort to grab Meg and Maryssa’s hands and they met me halfway.
I began to cry.
After conducting a CT scan and an MRI, the doctor’s concluded that I did not break my neck, but that I had a severe contusion to the spinal cord with a serious amount of swelling. I was relieved but still rattled by the news. Additionally, I was still in a good amount of pain and continued to have numbness in my legs.
My nurse, Woody, asked me if I needed anything.
“What do you have for pain?” I said with a curious look on my face.
“How about some morphine?” Woody said.
“Yeah, that’ll work”, said my dad with a grin.
After the first dose of morphine, the numbness in my legs went away and all of a sudden, there was a smile on my face. A forced smile, but still, it’s a smile.
As I waited (impatiently as you could imagine), I was informed by a nurse that there was a line of people wearing Castleton University apparel wanting to see me in the waiting room. I truly was surprised with an endless amount of love and support from family, friends and teammates who chose to come visit me in the hospital or reach out to me via text and social media.
After three doses of morphine, I thought it would be a good idea to take a selfie to let everyone know I was going to be okay!
I’ll tell you, looking up at a plain white ceiling for over seven hours is pretty boring. So, when I was told I was being transferred from Rutland to my hometown of Albany, New York, I popped right up. With a lot of pain and soreness going throughout my body, I was smiling.
I was going home.
An hour-and-a-half ambulance ride with a neck brace on culminated with me arriving at Albany Medical Center at midnight. I was placed in the corner of a very busy emergency room. The sights of conflicted doctors and upset patients and the sounds of screaming babies and old people wasn’t the welcoming gift I was looking for, but it would do.
Little did I know, I would be sitting in that corner for nearly six hours until I was attended to. The staff told me the same exact thing that I was told at Rutland.
However, I was informed that I wouldn’t be able to see the top neurosurgeon in Albany for two weeks. He wanted the swelling to die down before he attempted to look at the damage that was done. As disappointed as I was, I understood that I couldn’t rush the process, because that could do more harm than good.
Then it started to settle in: Will I be able to walk? Can I still play football? Can I drive my car? How long do I have to wear a neck brace?
My dad could tell I was frustrated and confused.
“We’ll figure it out, buddy. We always do,” he said.
He’s not wrong. Overcoming adversity is something that is ingrained in my DNA. I would not let this define me.
After spending over 15 hours in two hospitals without any food or drink, I was released to go home. My nurse asked me if I wanted a wheelchair.
“No, thank you. I want to walk,” I said defiantly.
My dad helped me stand up and put real clothes on, and we slowly walked out of the hospital.
Life goes on.
Although my chances of playing football again are low, that will not stop me from defining my own success, and showing the world that anyone can overcome insurmountable odds.
Life is full of disappointments, but it’s how you respond to those disappointments that defines a person’s character.
I will bounce back from this.