Athletes understand the inherit risks of playing sports competitively. You are at the peril of injuries at all times, and it’s not always your fault. That much is true.
The silver lining is that almost every injury you can sustain has been endured by countless athletes before you and will be treated by the best in the medical field.
What happens, however, when you suffer an injury so unsual that it’s tough to find a surgeon able to operate?
Wantagh junior, Spencer Gustafson, suffered an unusually rare injury on a freak accident during his eighth grade year. He spoke to Vinny Messana, and here’s what he had to say…
Tell us about the injury you sustained and what the journey back has been like…
On the last day of 8th grade baseball tryouts, we were inside hitting in the gym. We had three hitting stations with “Incrediballs” lined up next to each other. Coach told us to keep our heads on a swivel and be aware. I didn’t think much of it, being the overconfident type of player that I was. What are the chances something could possibly happen to me? Next thing I knew, a frozen rope comes straight at my face from the station next to mine and I was on the floor, blinded–it felt like.The first few minutes were bad. I couldn’t even open my eye and it was tearing uncontrollably. A few burst blood vessels later, the doctor said I was clear to play. Everything was fine and I had a successful school and summer season that year. On my third day of freshman year, as my sister was driving me home, all of a sudden I couldn’t see out of my right eye.The next day, I was in the doctor’s office hearing that I had almost completely detached the retina from my eye. They said if I had waited a day or two more to get it checked out, I could’ve gone blind in that eye. Less than 48 hours later, I had retina reattachment surgery (Amar’e Stoudemire had the same surgery) and the recovery sucked. For two weeks post-surgery, I had to lie on my right side in complete darkness for 22 hours out of the day. Blurred vision and discomfort followed for months. I was trying to catch up in school, adjust to high school and deal with constant check ups and doctors appointments. When baseball season rolled around, my doctor cleared me to play and I now have to wear a contact in my eye and protective clear lenses. Hitting has been the toughest adjustment with my right eye being my lead eye as a lefty. I’ve had difficulty picking up inside fastballs because they appear as if they’re going to hit my hip, but they’re actually right over the plate. But, my mom always tells me now that “your setback is the platform for your comeback.” I’ve really taken that to heart over the last few years, not just in baseball, but in life.
What was is like being a part of Wantagh’s back-to-back Class A Long Island Championships?
The last few years for Wantagh baseball has been incomparable to years past. Watching them from afar and then upclose towards the end of last season (getting pulled up) has taught me so many things: having a winning mentality without being over-confident, how to work hard and that a family atmosphere can take a team a long way. Coach Sachs and Coach Ninivaggi are two people that have influenced me since I was 7-years-old, going to Warrior baseball camps over the summer, motivating me to get them to be my coaches one day. Now, being on varsity and seeing it first hand, it doesn’t surprise me that Wantagh has been this successful during their era as coaches.
Where would you like to attend college?
For baseball, I’d love to play at schools like the University of Richmond, James Madison University, Ohio University, or maybe somewhere closer to home like Binghamton University. If I ever decide to not play after high school, I’d love to go to a big school to match my personality like Ohio State, Florida State or Binghamton University, where my sister currently goes.
Who are some athletes you try to emulate?
I’ve always looked up to Bryce Harper for his confidence on the field, never shying away from the big stage and always looking to have fun; because after all, it is a game that we play. At the same time, I look up to someone like Russell Wilson for his leadership and his humble, determined and hard-working mentality. Never getting too high off success or too low on failure and always looking to get better on-and-off the field.
Does your family have athletic roots?
My dad played a bunch of sports like baseball, basketball and hockey as a kid and my grandpa was a pitcher in high school. My dad instilled a love for the game since the time I could go to a game in a carriage. Regardless of the background, my family has supported me and pushed me through the highs and lows of this beautiful game and my wild journey thus far.
What are your goals for 2018?
I have a bunch of goals for 2018: to better myself as a person, as an athlete, a student, a friend, son, brother, etc. More specifically, I’d like to know where I’m going to college by the end of 2018, going into my senior year. Another big goal is to get back to state playoffs with a group of guys that I know are good enough to go back and win it all. I’ve got their back the whole way and I know they’ve got mine. Go Warriors.