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Over the next 24 hours Luke tried to comprehend the situation. 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. 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.2017 P&G Championships - Men - Day 1 - Olympic Channel Broadcast
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. 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.
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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. Sometimes he wonders if a woman could ever fall in love with him.
Later, Luke tossed in the DVD of his final wrestling match. There he was, two years ago, jerking his opponent around. There he was, throwing him to the mat.
There he was, flashing the cocky grin. Luke stared at the young boy on the screen—so innocent, that boy—and watched him crash headfirst into the wall. Jake has taken over Luke's logging business. A junior, Jake quit the wrestling team and started focusing on baseball. The wrestling team, battling through coaching turnover, wins fewer matches. Last year Luke contacted Tanner Small, his final opponent, telling him he wasn't to blame for his injury. After a few messages, they lost touch.
He wants to oversee the construction of a house near a quiet forest, where he can sit outside, look around and not see much of anyone. As the family cycles through stay-at-home nurses, she stays up many nights to keep watch, then drags herself to her job as a continuing education administrator at a local community college. She makes weekly calls to her insurance carrier, Blue Cross Blue Shield, to wage battles. During a several-month stint of washing Luke in bed with a bucket of water, she continually begged for a shower chair.
The same was true for his humidifier: When his ventilator broke it took the insurance company two days to fix it. When his wheelchair broke, a rep said they would send someone the following week. Luke Hampton is not going to lay in bed for 10 days. I prayed that God would let me take your pain, whatever it was, just to bring you back.
But it rarely comes. More than anything, Luke wants to wean himself off the ventilator. Last year he enrolled in therapy at a hospital, working his way up to 12 hours of breathing on his own. But then the insurance company stopped paying. Benita worries about the future. In one second he was a strong, strapping, muscular number-one wrestler in the state.
What would happen if, heaven forbid, the Lord decides to call me? The hulking boy so many others admired now stares upward to look people in the eye, so Jeremiah has researched Segways built for quads. Sometimes Luke stares at the massive hands resting on his chair, still bearing the scars of work, fights and wrestling. Loneliness takes hold when he sees others doing physical things. But a reason is different than an excuse. The excuse belongs to me.
And in my eyes, there will never be an excuse for this. According to the —12 edition of the federation's handbook, Rule 5 states: In the following weeks, officials rushed to ensure mats were positioned 10 feet away from walls. Superintendents arrived with measuring tape.
Coaches refused to compete until mats were positioned satisfactorily. Meet durations extended deep into the evenings. Referees called their directors requesting portable bleachers. But mostly there was general confusion, without direct blame. I know they are a great wrestling family. They seek compensation to help pay for therapy to wean Luke off the ventilator.
Three wrestlers from Alleghany earned a berth. Several people from Sparta made the mile trip from the mountains. Ten mats filled the gym space. Ironically, coaches say, the state tournament is about the only place where the foot rule is not enforced. That's why I've got to increase my strength.
I will need a lot of power to complete it," said Dan. She is a big part of my training and has been an inspiration to me.
Unlike most other USA gymnastsboth Haydens are married. What discipline the Haydens don' t get at home from their wives, they receive from Tomita, who comes from the highly technical Japanese school of gymnastics.
He is instilling those philosophies on the eager-to-Iearn Haydens. For him, the most integral aspect of their talent is not their physical attributes, but what comes from within. Koji Gushiken won the Olympics all-around not by being physical, but by his heart. They are not only great gymnasts, they are great individuals. That's what makes them so special," Tomita said.
The immediate elicited response felt from a Daggett glance was a man who had something on his mind. It was a leaner-looking, stronger Daggett that stepped off the plane at Indianapolis International Airport for the June meet. Of all the accomplishments this veteran international competitor had racked up in his illustrious career, a Championship allaround title was not among them.
For Jennifer Sey, the script for her performance couldn't have been written any better. Following a disheartening injury in front of the World Championship audience, this determined member of the Parkette gym rehabilitated herself right onto the victor's stand which included consistent performance despite an injured ankle.
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It was a gutsy performance and a definite highlight for the "Thrill of Victory. Consistency, consistency, consistency was the name of Daggett's tune as he used compulsory scores ranging from 9. Overall, Hayden's scores were higher than Daggett's, that is except for one. This was his best performance since the Olympic Games. Two of Dan's scores, a 9. But as is the case the majority of the time, the consistent performance outweighs occasional greatness. One gymnast who showed signs of greatness was Rob Brown of the University of Minnesota.
His floor routine lit up Market Square Arena and barely caused the judges' pen to scratch upon the note pad. He received a 9. After three years of sitting at home nursing injuries, Dennis Hayden appeared at the Championships and practically mirrored the imagery created by his brother.
Dennis, considered by many to be the surprise of the meet, performed to his full potential, tying for third in the compulsory round with Babcock Dennis, considered by many to be the surprise of the meet, performed to his full potential, tying for third in the compulsory round with Babcock.
Except for a poor vault, Hayden's scores were good enough to place him second all-around and first mdiviaually on high bar and rings. If you have mistakes, you really can't judge your talents compared with the others," he said. Two other gymnasts, who are considered to be from the old guard, came in and showed they weren't quite ready to roll over and allow the youth of the sport to take over just yet.
Babcock and Phil Cahoy looked as good as they ever have in finishing this meet third and fifth respectively. This Championships was especially The highlight of Babcock's steady important for Dennis. Because of his performance was his sound high bar absence from the National Team, he routine, for which he scored a 9. In the course was the best on that event during the of the meet, he hit 12 of 12 routines.
By no means will this be his last competition though. Hopefully I will be able to continue to compete after beginning med school.
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It will all depend on how I can manage my time. I might have to take my books to the gym and study in between sets, if that's necessary to keep competing. Daggett's armor was dented when he faltered on floor, an event that has perenially given him trouble because of a weak ankle. His best routines came on the events that have given him his most publicity as he cranked-out an almost perfect pommel horse routine 9.
Dan Hayden stayed within striking distance as he threw 9. Dennis Hayden competed in his first Championships in three years and came away as surprise of the meet.