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When they're tired, you keep pushin' them. When you don't want to do something for yourself, you do it for someone else, even if you don't know 'em. Because they might help you sometime down the road.
His opponent, Tanner Small, was a stocky, thick-legged sophomore from Cox Mill. Luke shook his hand on the mat. This kid can't beat you, Luke thought. Just wrestle your match. The official, Mike McCall, was a veteran involved with the sport for 50 years. When he blew the whistle, Luke burst forward and tied Small up. After disengaging, Luke shot a double leg, lifted Small and slammed him to the ground. He could tell Small was scared. I could just pin you right now, Luke thought.
Small managed to escape, and Luke gave him a shove. With his head, Small whacked Luke's chin. And then, stepping back and circling the mat, Luke flashed that smirkthat cocky grin telling opponents he was ready to finish them.
As Small stood upright, Luke charged hard, reaching for a crotch shot and plowing him forward a few steps. As Small fell backward, Luke powered headfirst into the padded wall.
McCall blew his whistle. Luke tried to stand. But like a pine tree chopped at its base, Luke's body dropped to the ground with a thud. He lay motionless as he felt a wave of pain rush upward from the tips of his toes. She had seen Luke get knocked off dirt bikes and land face-first on the pavement.
But this seemed different. At the coach's bench, Derrick Calloway feared his star player had suffered a concussion. The crowd grew silent as Benita rushed to the mat.
I can't feel my legs. I can't feel my arms. It's gonna be all right," said Benita, doubting her own words. Jake stood beside her. Luke wondered why he couldn't feel the snowflakes on his skin. As the ambulance doors shut, Luke began to cry. Throughout the ride, his breathing grew shallow as Benita held his hand. Randy arrived, followed by Laken, in tears. Luke had broken one vertebra and shattered another. His spinal cord was severely damaged, and his diaphragm had collapsed on his lung, cutting off the air.
During the five-hour surgery doctors screwed together shattered pieces of vertebra with a rod and metal plate. As Luke lay in a medically induced coma for two days, Benita refused to leave the hallway. Her sister brought clean clothes, and a patient's wife offered a rocking chair.
Word of Luke's injury traveled to Sparta. Benita was referred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specialized in spinal injury rehabilitation. I must hold my ship together and protect my young'uns, she thought. During the silent drive, Benita thought about Luke and wrestling, how he always fought for every second in order to win.
On the mat, anything can change in a split-second. Two days later he regained consciousness. Tubes were shoved down his throat and up his nose. His parents and Laken were next to his bed. Over the next 24 hours Luke tried to comprehend the situation.
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He had no sensation from the chest down. This isn't fuckin' happening to me. This can't happen to me. He asked for morphine to numb his thoughts. He didn't want to see anybody, talk to anybody. During Alleghany's tournament that week wrestlers from every team wore green socks in Luke's honor, and students were decked in T-shirts reading "Luke Strong" and "Heart of Gold, Head of Steel.
Jake, wearing Luke's wrestling shoes, won all five of his matches and was named Most Outstanding Wrestler. Brown's Restaurant set up a donation jar.
Zach Galifianakis, who owned a home in Sparta and recalled conversations with Luke at the hardware store, sent a check. A Christmas tree farmer launched a Wreathes for Luke sale.
Faculty members organized vigils, and students wore green-and-gold ribbons and mounted a prayer wall. Teams across the region hosted benefit tournaments, and letters poured into the hospital. A pastor from Anchorage wrote to say he'd suffered a similar injury as a high school wrestler and offered counsel. Coach Calloway's inbox became clogged with emails from across the country, and the state's online wrestling forum lit up with prayers.
After tracheal surgery, Luke mouthed his first words: So did cheerleaders from N. Randy's father, who at 77 still tended to the Hampton tobacco farm, left Sparta for the first time in his life to visit; he always admired the work ethic of Luke, the only person in town who could make him smile. When Laken arrived, Luke arranged for Benita to pick up a bouquet of birthday flowers for her. On his bedside table he kept a watercolor painting of him and Laken, copied from a photograph.
Luke sported a backward hat and chin scruff. Laken's long black hair spilled over a turquoise jacket. Luke spent his birthday in the ICU after balls of mucus had lodged in his lungs. His diaphragm still wasn't functioning, and Benita had a chaplain anoint him with oil.
Two weeks later, Luke's legs spontaneously moved "praise God! Benita jotted a prayer in her journal: Will do or give anythingmy own lifeto have this for him. For dinner, Luke had reserved the penthouse room of the Shepherd Center overlooking the city. Her favorite color was blue, so he had the staff decorate the room with blue streamers, candles and two-dozen red and white roses, placed on a white tablecloth.
He paid his cousin to buy Laken a dress, necklace and new shoes. Benita prepared shrimp cocktail, garlic bread and Caprese salad. That night Laken wore a black sequin gown. Luke, who still couldn't talk, wore sweatpants. She cried when she got off the elevator. He gave her the watercolor painting he kept on his bedside table.
She leaned over his motionless body and kissed him. There were many athletes at the Shepherd Center: There were also patients who suffered fluke accidents, like stumbling to the ground reaching for a penny. By late February, Luke could speak on his own. One day he introduced himself to a fellow patient named Josh, a year-old gang member from Columbia, S.
A paraplegic, he only wore socks and a gown. No one ever visited him. You know what I'd give to move my arms? Back in his room that afternoon, Luke gestured toward a box of T-shirts a friend had customized for him. From then on Luke was known as the Shepherd Center ambassador for depressed patients. Nurses and therapists lined up to buy T-shirts and teased him about his chinstrap beard. Luke required round-the-clock care.
A team of nurses used a suction machine to rid his lungs of mucus. They used an electric chest oscillator to extract phlegm. They tended to his catheter, telling Benita she would need to learn everything. He won't need all that! She took classes with mannequins, learning to treat bed and pressure sores, to use a ventilator, to change tracheal aids and hoses. She learned to use nets and lifts and cranks, hauling Luke in and out of his chair.
She learned to bathe Luke in the shower, and to move his limbs up and down to keep his blood circulating. Sometimes her arms felt strained from the lifting and cranking. Luke learned how to wheel his chair by blowing and sucking through a mouth-tube"like a five-speed without a clutch," he reasoned. With another joystick he learned to write words on a computer.
A few days later he wrote a Facebook message to Laken: Benita hosted movie nights in Luke's room, fixing wings and nachos. On many weekends, Laken visited and fell asleep in his lap. Each night, Benita slept next to Luke. Sometimes she just stared at him, listening to the ventilator.
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I'd been better off if I just died. None of us would. Baby, you're alive for a reason. The Lord has something in store for you, you just don't know what it is.
He is aggravated by "being cleaned; being rolled; being bathed; beingbeingbeing," Benita wrote in her journal. Mothers are supposed to make things betterfix it! She ordered lemon-drop martinis.
The other mothers teased her about her fox-tail sweater. At nights, she held her son's hand, even though he couldn't feel it. As Luke recuperated at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, the Sparta community prepared for his arrival. Each day, townsfolk gathered at the little blue farmhouse, where they worked to erect a new bedroom, attached to a ramp.
Luke, it seemed, had always sacrificed himself to help them with odd jobs. Helping him, they told Benita on the phone, was the least they could do. There was Jackie installing the gas line and Grant laying the gravel and John erecting the tresses and Robbie installing the electric. The former innkeeper donated an adjustable bed.
The school woodshop teacher dispatched students to help on the bedroom. Randy would work all day, then come home and lay planks while his friends managed the pool room.
But they gave all they had till it hurt—even people not known for their generosity. His doctors said it was uncertain if he would heal. The morning of his departure day he slipped into jeans and a flannel shirt for the first time in months.
He looked in the mirror and smiled. Laken met Luke at the airport, and an ambulance carried them to Sparta. Route 21 curved as it climbed past Stone Mountain State Park, causing the dizzying sensation of a roller-coaster ascent before the ensuing plummet. Here were the silos and smokestacks and woodpiles next to cabins. Here were the cows, Christmas trees and country kitchens telling him he was home.
When the ambulance crossed into Alleghany County, Luke began seeing marquees and billboards with his name. Randy had just finished the ramp. His beer bottle collection. Wrestling plaques and trophies. A photo of Randy shaving his head before a meet. A box of ammunition. A sign with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: The high school staged a homecoming rally.
A neighbor offered Luke a Chevy Duramax truck at a discount, with a passenger seat big enough to fit a quadriplegic. A teenage Eagle Scout built a deck so Luke could sit in the sun. The entire troop came to help.
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A nurse was scheduled to be on hand. On the day of the dance, however, Luke and Laken got into an argument. She stormed out of the house. It was the hardest Luke cried since he was at the Shepherd Center. He asked Benita to put the watercolor painting in the closet. She visited him once, before going off to college. During graduation Luke was the honorary speaker. He continued to coach young wrestlers. That fall Luke developed pneumonia in both lungs, sending him back to the hospital for several weeks.
The wrestling tributes began fading away that winter. Before departing, they wished him good luck and said goodbye. This past January, two years after his injury, the ventilator attached to Luke's tracheal tube whooshed in his bedroom.
His dog, Cole, hobbled around on three legs—the result of being hit by a truck. Luke, now 20, had ballooned to pounds. He took nearly 60 pills a day, swallowing mouthfuls at a time. In 12 months, he'd taken about 2, pills, a cocktail that made his hair grow kinky. The anti-depressants, once shelved, were back. Instead of the pinches of long-cut dip he once plugged into his lower lip, Benita popped tobacco pouches into his mouth, four at a time.
Strewn around his bedroom were dirty water bottles, which Benita and his nurses placed under his mouth when he needed to spit. Luke learned to navigate the house with his chair, once running full-speed into a table when his tube fell from his mouth. He endured intense back spasms, causing his face to contort. He often felt itchy, numb, tingly. Though he lacked external sensations, he could still feel the inside of his body—the plugs of mucus inside his lungs and the nerve pain from head to toe.
Sometimes he felt pulsations inside his fingers, causing a twitching feeling. She scratched his head and massaged his eyelids and brushed his teeth and rolled and bathed and dressed him. She changed the hoses for his ventilator and humidifier, providing moisture for the lungs. She used a crank to lift him to his feet, though it was difficult for him to breathe. Attached to his diaphragm, there was a pacing system with microscopic wires and electrodes.
It connected to an external electric box, which Benita used to shock the diaphragm every five seconds. On a recent night Luke sat in his chair behind the main counter, where the clerk and another man played cards next to jars of beef jerky and pickled eggs. An elderly man called Tater nodded off in a corner behind the register.
But tonight was particularly cold, and his legs were too stiff to twirl. Most of the customers at the counter greeted Luke. Another man in his 20s walked around the corner and sat down next to Tater. Men come to the pool room to sell guns and knives, offering Randy a cut of the profits.
Some barterers roll up with truck-beds full of second-hand items like washers, dryers and chainsaws. Hampton family wrestling trophies adorn the shelves behind the bar, near a collection of dusty beer bottles and, mounted on a plaque, a large-mouthed bass Benita had caught.
Old Budweiser lamps sag over the pool tables. A wood-burning stove sits next to a pile of logs and a chainsaw. Throughout his childhood, Luke tagged along with Randy to the pool room, where he would stand on a barstool and mimic his father with a cue stick.
Since his injury, he feels most comfortable in this dark den, with its older patrons. I thought I knew that. Luke sat in the corner next to the flat-screen TV. State basketball game was on. Luke talked with a man about the upcoming state wrestling tournament. Randy, dipping Copenhagen, rested on a cushy chair he salvaged a year ago, just before its owner tossed it into a dumpster. Known to yammer when he had a few beers, Bobby explained how Sparta was an appropriate name for their little town.
Gotta have people to fight for you. He got that shit defeated. But he got a mind to him. Comes in here, talks to us like any other man.
Back home, he rolled into his bedroom where his friend Bill was waiting. He learned how to use the suction machine and humidifier, and now wants to become a utility lineman, just like Luke.
He just made me a better person, I guess. On the TV screen he watched his former, pound-self plowing over opponents daring to get in his way. As he watched, he imagined what his life would have been like were it not for one wrestling match—one decision, one move, one split-second.
Nobody, not even God himself, will ever replace these two years sitting in this chair, Luke thought. Luke is still in love with Laken, who is engaged and living in Winston-Salem. At the State Championships, she placed third on beam and second all-around.
Natalie finished in the top ten all-around at Regionals. Natalie began competing level nine during the season. She placed fourth on vault at the Christmas on the Chesapeake meet. She finished third on beam at the Janet Rothenberg Memorial meet. She placed first on beam and second all-around at the Parkette Invitational. She did not compete during the championship season. Natalie did not compete in Natalie moved up to level ten in She finished fourth all-around at the State Championships.
She placed third all-around at Regionals. She competed at JO Nationals. InNatalie finished second all-around at the Magical Classic. She won beam at the City of Lights Invitational. Natalie finished first on beam at the State Championships. She finished fifth all-around at Regionals. She competed on three events at JO Nationals. InNatalie competed on vault and beam at the State Championships. She finished eleventh all-around at Regionals. Natalie placed third on beam at the Sand Dollar Invitational.
She placed third all-around at the Daytona Beach Open.
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She won beam at the State Championships. She finished fourth on floor and tenth all-around at Regionals. L10 State BB Champion JO Nationals- 11th BB L8 Regionals- 7th AA L8 State- 2nd AA