Preston Davis had just returned home from the war. He wasn't the man he was four years ago. He had been a well built, healthy young man. Life couldn't have been better for him if he had designed it himself. Athletics had always been a part of his life. From youth football through college bowl games. He had played them all. After graduation he had accepted a position as football coach from his high school Alma mater. The team had gone to state his first year of coaching, making him a very popular coach. They didn't win, but he had been so proud of his team for making it to the finals. His bright smile, positive attitude, and ability to make others feel comfortable made him easily accepted by the townspeople.
Now he was a double amputee lying in a hospital bed with no future plans, thanks to the IED hit the humvee he was driving. On top of the physical pain was the emotional agony. He had been the only survivor in the humvee, although there were days he questioned the term survivor. As far as he was concerned, his life was over. Who would hire a coach that couldn't even walk, let alone demonstrate the plays to the team?
Heather Allen had been a senior the year Preston was hired. She had been dating the quarterback and had gone to every game. If it was an away game, Coach Davis allowed her follow the bus home for safety. Sometimes she stopped at a restaurant with the team on the way home. There she witnessed first-hand why the team respected and loved the new coach so much.
At the end of the school year, Heather had graduated and gone on to college. She and the high school quarterback had dated through their first year in college and then gone their separate ways.
Now Heather was completing her Master's Degree in Physical Therapy. She was enjoying the clinicals at the VA hospital. The courage of the men she worked with was inspiring. Some were bitter, but most were determined to not let their injuries keep them from living a full life. Heather felt blessed to be learning from the doctors, nurses, and physical therapists in this hospital. She was amazed at how much she learned from the patients.
Heather opened the new patient folder to learn the needs of the patient. Pain gripped her heart when she recognized the name. She remembered how vibrant he had been before he left. Now she held in her hand a folder labeled DOUBLE AMPUTEE.
"Excuse me while I go study this folder." Heather said to her mentor. Then she went in search of a quiet place. Just as she found the solitude her tears started flowing. "Lord, I can't do this without you. I can't remain professional or keep my emotions in check without your help. Please give me the strength to do what you have called me to do. Amen"
In short order, the tears stopped and Heather made her way down the hall to Preston's room. Just before entering she sent up one more silent prayer. Then she put on her best professional look and opened the door. At the sight of Preston she weakened and immediately felt the strength of the Lord come over her. Preston was at least 30lbs. lighter than when he was coaching, the color of ashes, and looked as weak as a small child.
Heather intentionally threw her shoulders back and walked with determination toward his bed. "Hi Coach Davis. Do you remember me? I dated Chip Reynolds in high school."
"Yes, I remember you. What are you doing here?"
"I am completing my degree in physical therapy and this is where I do my clinicals. I'm going to be your PT for a few days."
"I really don't feel like doing any work today."
"Oh but you will when I am finished. You will feel like a new man."
"I don't feel like a man at all." She heard him say under his breath.
Heather chose to ignore the remark. "Let's start with the arms."
"My arms? There's nothing wrong with my arms."
"I know, but you are not exercising like you once were. So let's work them a while." Heather instructed him on how to stretch his arms. It didn't take long for him to begin to tire. "Now let's work your legs for just a minute. Then you can stretch while I'm not here."
"I really don't want to stretch right now."
"Now you are a coach. What would you tell one of your players who told you he didn't feel like running plays today?"
"I don't believe that I can say that in front of you."
"I'm not surprised. You were tough on your guys, weren't you?"
"Yes and it got us to the playoffs."
"It sure did. I've never seen Chip so happy."
"He was a good quarterback. What's he doing now? Are you two still dating?"
"No we dated for a while after high school, but then we went our separate ways. He went east to a college and I stayed here so it was hard to communicate. We're still friends, but no dating. He is still in college majoring in chemistry."
"Oh wow, that's good."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You've distracted me long enough. Now start stretching those legs."
"You mean these nubs?"
"They are not nubs."
"Yes they are."
"Okay, temporary nubs."
Preston stretched each of his nubs out twice and then informed Heather that he could not do it again. Frustrated, Heather left his room.
She kept picturing Chip on that football field in 99 degree weather, sweating, bruised, and dirty. He wanted to quit but Coach Davis kept pushing him. Sometimes Heather thought Chip was going to pass out, but he kept going because of Coach Davis. Now Coach Davis needed a coach.
Heather went home and considered how to motivate Coach Davis. She knew that every patient needed a goal to work toward. What would Coach Davis set his sights on? She thought. Lord, please give me some inspiration on how I can motivate Coach Davis. Amen.
The next morning Heather made a point of focusing on each patient. She wanted to complete her work quickly and efficiently. She planned to spend quality time with Coach Davis in the afternoon.
Heather walked into Coach Davis’ hospital room with much more confidence than she felt. “Well Coach, how are you feeling today?”
“Like I got hit by an IED.”
“Oh, cracking jokes, huh? You must be feeling better.”
Coach Davis didn’t smile and Heather recoiled at the change in what was once a sunny disposition. She kept smiling and pretending that she was in complete control of her emotions. “Aren’t you an athlete?”
“What is the difference in a great athlete and a mediocre athlete?”
“A great athlete never gives up.” He answered with a snide voice.”
“I thought you’d say something like that. Today we are going to play ball.” Heather said as she pulled a small ball from her bag.
“You don’t have to play catch with me like I’m a little kid, you know?”
“Oh we aren’t playing catch.”
“Then what are we going to play?”
“Hey Einstein, I’m lying in a hospital bed while both of my legs are in another country. It might be a while before I can kick anything.”
“Then you’ll just have to use what you have in this country.”
“Well maybe we should change the name of the game to nub ball.” The sarcasm in his voice was far different than the lilt that used to lift the spirits of his students.
Heather pulled back the sheets, exposing his bandaged legs. She was careful to not let her feelings show in her face. Then she adjusted the bed so that Preston was in a half sitting position.
“Ready? Let’s play.” She said as she held the ball about twelve inches above his wounded legs and gently dropped it. Preston made no effort to raise his legs to kick. Frustrated but determined, Heather picked up the ball and tried again. And again she received the same response—or lack of.
End of Part I
Part 2 coming next week.