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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
Fairness and Wheelchairs
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. The women's cross country team was successful again. And the Cobber football team won another thriller.
Hard work and talent seemed to be reaping their just rewards. But that's not always so.
Just down the hall from my office is a drinking fountain. Tuesday morning, while heading out of my office, I stopped in mid-stride. Dean Studer, a Cobber senior from Billings, Montana, was slowly, gently leaning over the fountain, trying to find a way to get water while suffering the minimum amount of pain from his back. It hurt just to watch him try to drink.
Two weeks ago Dean Studer was exactly where he had long dreamed of being. After patiently waiting his turn to be a starting Cobber running back, he finally had a chance to show the speed and strength that had made him one of Montana's top prep halfbacks four years ago. And he made the most of it, running for 154 yards in the season premiere against Moorhead State.
Dean and everyone close to the program knew he was going to be one of the best backs in the league this year.
Four day's later, he was laying on the ground at practice, his back searing with pain, with no feeling in his legs or feet. He had gone out for a pass and reached back to catch the ball. No one hit him. He just felt the pain and fell.
The feeling in his legs returned. But he was done with football for the year, probably forever. A disk in his back had slipped and was pinching a nerve.
For better or worse, people tend to assess the character of a victim before deciding how serious a particular tragedy really is.
The people around here, quite rightly, considered Dean's injury to be a serious tragedy. Not because it was life threatening, or because he is somehow without hope or friends or family. That's not the case.
This was a tragedy because it just seemed so horribly unfair that someone this decent and talented could work so hard, so long and so patiently and then have his dream snatched away, just when he knew it was in reach.
In Dean's first two years at Concordia he had developed a following among fans and a respect among teammates for his young-colt character on the field. It was only spot duty, playing as he did behind a series of all-MIAC backs. But, still, he had his moments in those years.
Brimming with talent, he would flash his brilliance and then, too often, fall victim to his own exuberance. The spectacular run was sometimes followed by the exasperating fumble. Potential in need of maturity.
Last season the fans saw it coming. He was more solid.
More self assured on the field. Fewer mistakes. Less frisky. Smoother, sometimes breathtaking. In 1990 Dean Studer would come into his own. We all knew it.
All the qualities of personal and athletic maturity, the traits that coach Christopherson had long ago learned to depend on in building championship teams, were there in Dean this fall. But then, four days after the unveiling of this new force in the league, Dean was done.
When a thing like this happens to someone we care about there is a tremendous temptation to find someone or something to blame, or to at least say he took his chances and lost. But that was hard in Dean's case.
If he had been injured in a game while getting hit, we could have written it off as "part of the game" or "He's a grown boy. He knew the risks." Some would have blamed the "game" itself and lectured us, asking why we have this organized violence called football. If he had been the victim of some cheap shot, some clip or a crack-back block, we could have had a villain, someone who did this awfuturn to Cobber Sports Home Page Return to Concordia Home Page
But there was no villain. The "game" didn't do it. Dean didn't do it. His back simply went out. It could have happened bending down to get clothes out of a dryer or reaching to pick up a penny on the ground. There was no one to blame.
We were reminded of that sage-like cliche, "If life was fair, there wouldn't be wheelchairs."
I hadn't seen Dean since his injury. As he slowly stood up from getting his drink, he took a deep breath, the kind one takes in hope that pain can somehow be exhaled.
I went up to him cautiously, not knowing how he was dealing with his disappointment.
"I was so sorry to hear about your injury," I said. I asked how it was.
He half smiled, half shrugged, and thanked me for my concern. Then he said "I'm going to start some therapy tomorrow, hopefully I won't have to have surgery. But we don't know yet."
"Did you get hit, or, what? How did it happen?" I said.
I knew he hadn't been hit but I didn't know what else to say.
"You know," he said, "I was really lucky. If I had taken a shot I might have been really hurt. Apparently the disk was out a little already but I didn't know it. I was pretty lucky."
I should have asked him how he was in terms of the sense of loss he was feeling. But I did the "guy" thing. I asked him if he was planning to claim a medical redshirt year and come back as a fifth-year senior. Asking about playing ball is easier than asking about feelings.
"I doubt I'll do that," he said. "I'm on schedule to graduate in business ad. in May. And my sisters all graduated in four years. I don't want them teasing me about taking five years to get through school." He smiled at the thought.
Then he added, "Besides," referring to the eighteen other seniors on the team, many from his beloved Montana, "I came here with this class of guys and we became a team together. I want to graduate with them."
He thanked me again for my concern and then turned to walk gingerly away. He had to get to class. Dean will be fine. Football stardom was never his only dream.
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