The car accident last February left Francis Scott Key senior Ryan Roach in the hospital for two weeks with a broken back, out of school until May.
Four screws and two rods involving two vertebrae were inserted to repair damage in the lower part of his spine. His toughest day of all, he remembers, was the first out of the hospital bed, six days after surgery and less than two weeks after the crash.
"That was more painful than the accident itself," he said.
Roach started wrestling for the Eagles when he was a freshman. Without a junior league background, he didn't have the polish some of the others had coming in. But with hard work and self motivation, he was starting to come into his own last season as a junior, starting on varsity in the 171-pound class.
With an 18-13 mark heading into the regional playoffs, Roach was riding home with a friend from practice when the car skidded off the road.
"At first, I thought I'd still be able to wrestle. But then I got to the hospital and found out I had a broken back. It took me awhile to realize I wouldn't be wrestling. It was demoralizing," Roach said.
The Eagles won their third straight region title and made another impressive showing in the state meet with Roach constantly in the back of their minds.
Some questioned whether Roach would be back to wrestle his senior year. Was there ever any question in his mind?
"No," he said. "I knew I'd be back eventually."
And there he was on Thursday, improving to 5-2 on the season with an overtime take-down to win a 5-3 decision over Westminster's Sean Winter.
"Going from last spring, when he had home-teaching flat on his back, to walking around being an accomplishment in the summer, to early fall, when he started doing some things to build back the strength in his legs, he put a lot of effort into getting back to where he was," said Key coach Bill Hyson. "There were no times when he showed disappointment or frustration. It was like he could see the positive light at the end of the tunnel."
Roach said no limitations were set on what he could and could not do during his recovery. He spent most of his summer working on his parents' farm and working out with weights.
Also a defensive end for the Eagles football team, he was not allowed to play early in the season, but stayed involved by attending practices and working with other players. Then came the bonus.
"The guys were calling me 'coach Roach,' but I said not any more. I got a chance to play the last two games. I knew I'd be back for wrestling, but getting the chance to play football was a nice surprise," he said. "It felt weird not being able to play the way you know you can, but being out there was a whole lot better than standing on the sideline."
Early in the wrestling season, he's gotten more and more comfortable on the mat and says he's now "picking up where he left off last season."
As for the experience, he says: "A lot of hard work and a lot of heart."
L And the lesson: "Set your mind on something, you can do it."
He's left a lasting impression on his teammates, who along with his coaches and parents, played a big role in his successful return.
"The kids have a real respect, knowing what he went through last year and seeing him come back full circle. It's real humbling for them," said Hyson. "It made them see how quick they can lose an opportunity, and also helped them see, through perseverance, that good things can happen, too."
Pub Date: 12/22/96