Battling Back: The fight to play football again

HANCEVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — The thudding and slamming coming from the Hanceville High School weight room is like the roosters crow for football season. The Bulldogs, fresh off a region championship season, are already at work trying to stay atop the 3A Region 5 hill.

“If a kid is willing to get up at six o’clock in the morning on a regular basis, then he’s pretty committed to what he’s doing,” said head coach Danny Miller.

The Bulldogs lost several seniors from their top-dog team last year, but the most noticeable absence is from a sophomore. Shawn Anderton played on the junior varsity team last year, but Coach Miller could see the young player starting to develop.

“He was one of those dependable kids that just came to work every day,” said Coach Miller. Coach Miler believes that work ethic would have continued through this summer, if not for a terrible day in March.

For spring break, Shawn and his family went on vacation to Panama City. A photo of Shawn and his dad, Scottie, captured the last seconds before the family’s lives would change forever.

“He went to jump into the waves, and he hit,” Scottie Anderton recalled. “He came up floating. We saw his head moving and [my wife] Diane said, ‘Scottie, something’s wrong. I went to grab him and that’s when I knew, because it was dead weight.”

Shawn was still breathing, but he couldn’t move his arms or legs. Scottie said a registered nurse happened to be walking by on the beach, and recognized the emergency. “

She stabilized his neck as we pulled him out of the water,” said Scottie. “She probably saved his life.” Shawn was rushed to the hospital, where a doctor told his parents the awful news. Their son had broken his neck.

Shawn was rushed into emergency surgery. His life was saved, but he was paralyzed. “You hear about it on TV, or read about it in the paper,” said Coach Miller, adding, “It’s really different when it happens to somebody that you’re really connected with.”

After being flown back to Birmingham via helicopter, Shawn’s parents arranged for his to undergo physical therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA. “This place is amazing,” said Scottie. “What they’ve been able to do with Shawn is amazing and a gift from God.” Just four months after losing his freedom of walking, Shawn is taking huge strides towards getting that ability back. Two or three days a week, he’s strapped into the Lokomat, a machine that simulates walking. Shawn is supported, and his work level is controlled by a computer.

The machine is still handling most of the work, however Shawn has regained the ability to move his toes. “[It] makes me feel normal again,” said Shawn after a Lokomat session in June.”It’s something I used to do.” The sessions are Scottie’s favorite moments during this trying time. “As a dad, part of you still wonders what’s going to happen to your son,” he said. “When you see him up walking, it’s just an emotional moment. I don’t know if you can put it into words.”

Shawn keeps a set of football cleats near him at all times. They were the shoes his mother ordered for him before they left for the Panama City vacation. The shoes had an option for a saying on the back, with phrases like, “Beast Mode,” being among the most popular. Shawn eventually settled on two words that would adorn his football footwear, but define his life: “Never Quit.” “It’s just like football practice. You’ve got to push through it,” said Shawn.

Shawn’s intensity and up-beat attitude during his struggle has amazed his father. “I always knew he was a tough kid,” said Scottie. “But, he’s tougher than I thought he was; he’s tougher than I thought he could be.” That toughness may allow him to keep a promise he made to his coach while still recovering from surgery. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘Coach, I guess I won’t be there for spring practice,” said Coach Miller.

“But, I will be there in the fall.”

Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News


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