How my Scrawny Best Friend Became the Strongest Guy I know
How a Soccer Game Changed My Life Forever
It was minutes before the biggest soccer game of my life. The crowd was buzzing, the atmosphere was remarkable, and a 3-goal comeback in the regional finals with 20 minutes left while down a guy would still take the backseat to a much larger headline. This is a story of how my scrawny best friend proved to me he was one of the strongest people I know, while changing my outlook on life forever.
It was the high school soccer regional championship. As I had been doing every game since I was 7, my best friend, Austin, and I warmed up together to calm each other’s nerves. The energy in the stadium was palpable. It was the moment we had dreamed of our whole lives. It was supposed to be the best game of our lives. Fast forward to the second half, the game took a backseat to real-life.
Midway through the second half, the opposing goalkeeper punted the ball high into the air. Austin jumped into the air to make a play on the ball, but was undercut by an opposing player. At that moment, everything literally changed in a blink of an eye. Austin did a flip in the air, and landed straight on the back of his neck. It is if the play happened in slow motion. As if life knew it was going to devastate so many lives in that one instance. Austin laid motionless on the ground. Me, standing 10 feet away, instantly dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
I’m not a doctor, but I, as did everyone in the crowd, knew how serious this injury was going to be. The whole stadium gasped, then collectively stood quiet in disbelief. The once electric crowd of hundreds of people became void of noise. You could’ve literally heard a pin drop from a mile away. Trainers and coaches rushed to the field to attend to Austin. Ambulances bolted to the field in the moments after. In a blink of an eye, we went from playing in the biggest game of our lives to watching the flashing lights of the ambulance drive Austin to the nearest hospital.
The game resumed, but the image of what just happened play on a loop like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. The game resumed and we ended up pulling off a stunning comeback victory, but through the celebrating, the trophy ceremony, and the pictures, I just wanted to know what was happening to my best friend. It was the definition of a bittersweet moment.
My emotions were all over the place. Winning the biggest of my life without my best friend was like winning a thousand dollars and finding out your dog died at the same time. When I got home, I got a call from Austin’s mom, and the news was PARALYZING. He had cracked his C-6 vertebrae and rushed his C-7 vertebrae, needed immediate surgery, and the doctors were only giving him a 30% chance to ever walk again. 30%.
I went to my room that night and laid in bed. I’m not an emotional person, but I cried like a baby that night. Uncontrollable sobbing. It wasn’t the thought of Austin not being a part of the win that made me cry, nor of the thought of ever being able to play with him again, but the thought of never being able to walk again with my best friend that made me feel powerless.
By the grace of God and the angels above, the surgery was successful and Austin was going to be able to walk again. The doctor said that he was 2 millimeters away from never being able to walk again. That is roughly the size of the thickness of a credit card, or 10 pieces of paper stacked on top of each other. He was in a neck brace for a few months and couldn’t do any kind of physical activity, but he was going to be alright.
After everything that had happened and at one point only given a 30% chance to ever walk again, he started his senior season of soccer right by my side, less than 8 months after the injury. From almost being in a wheelchair, to having the courage and strength to go back on the field that almost left him paralyzed was remarkable. Not only did he play great his senior season, but he earned himself a scholarship to play college soccer.
Had this injury happened to me or most people, I don’t think they could play competitive sports again, especially after only 8 month after the injury. His courage through that injury taught me more than he’ll ever know. If he can come back from that injury after only 8 months of almost being paralyzed, then what excuse do I have for anything in life? Who am I to say something is too tough or too hard? Although physically he was one of the weakest guys I know, his inner strength and courage was unmatched to anyone I knew. He never complained, he never asked “why me,” and he never lost hope. He just kept fighting.
I once asked him on a visit over to his how he has been able to stay so positive and upbeat through all of this, and his response will stick with me for the rest of my life. He simply said, with a neck brace on and all, “Things could always be worse.” Those are words that I live by today.
If we all took this mindset and looked at the problems or inconveniences that we face in life, how many of them would be worth the stress and anger that we put into them? How many of our problems would seem so minor and silly compared to some of the issues people around the world face every day.
Austin knew his situation wasn’t ideal, but he also knew that he had a loving support system that a lot of people don’t have. He knew he had a roof over his head, food on the table every night, and a comfortable bed to sleep in at night that a lot of people don’t have. We all go through heartbreaks and road bumps in our lives. It is how we handle and view these situations that make all the difference.
Austin could’ve sat in sorrow and complained how unlucky he was to be in that situation. Honestly, no one would’ve blamed him if he did. But he chose to stay positive. He chose to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He chose to not let this circumstance change who he was as a person.
Everyone who was at that game will never forget the image of Austin lying motionless on the field that day. No one will ever forget the silence of the stadium and the flashing lights as the ambulance drove Austin away. For people lucky enough to have been with Austin throughout his recovery, no one will ever forget the lesson that he taught us all: Things can always be worse.