February 2020 ROAR

jeanniegregory

Coverage of Rockford athletics at all levels.

When spring came around that year

Luke tried to run track but found his leg

still wasn’t ready, he learned he’d have to

wait a while longer to be able to rejoin his

teammates. “It was a rough time for me but

what helped me get through it was looking

forward to competing again,” he shares.

The process was a slow one, as the type of

injury Luke suffered has an expected recovery

time of up to a year. The long scar running

down his lower leg showed that the

outside had healed, but the inside wasn’t

nearly as quick to mend. Physical therapy

was also part of the healing plan. When soccer

season started in the fall his body wasn’t

ready; in October Luke was still walking

with a limp.

When the wrestling season rolled

around his sophomore year, he couldn’t

wait any longer. He was going out for the

team.

Rams wrestling head coach Brian Richardson

saw Luke’s obstacles.

“Him losing a year to a broken leg was a

pretty devastating blow. I know he was very

passionate about soccer, which has fall and

spring seasons, he basically lost a full year of

sports. A lot of times when that happens kids

disappear and you never see them again,

but Luke stayed with the wrestling team all

the way through that season, helping out

whenever he could. He finally got back on

the mat last year and spent most of the season

wrestling on the JV’s and C team.”

How did Luke feel finally able to wrestle

again?

“It was difficult at first because I had

lost so much technique,” he shares. But

there was another problem. Luke, who

can be described as pragmatic, explains

the issue.

“They planted two rods in my tibia.

The problem with it was that the rods

would stick out of my knee. This was

extremely inconvenient for wrestling

because you constantly slam your knee

into the mat and whenever I did that, I

would hit those rods causing my leg to

go numb.”

Not to mention the pain it caused,

which Luke didn’t even mention in our

interview.

Luke worked through the wrestling

Luke Watkins’ player card from the Rockford

Wrestling Club. ~ Contributed Photo

season and ran for the Rams track team,

primarily competing in the gut-wrenching

400-meter run. He set a PR in the

West Ottawa varsity meet with a time of

54.04, placing second. That same night

he joined forces with Luke Vanderwiel,

Eli Haddad and Jacob Rademacher in

the 4X400 and helped the relay team

place first. The Rams 4X400 relay team,

with Luke running anchor, also landed

second in the MITCA Division I Team

State Meet in May.

A dedicated athlete, the family waited

until Luke was between seasons before

he had the doctors address the rods

in his leg and the issues it presented

while wrestling. He had the surgery in

July, with the surgeon planning on removing

the rods. However, they were so

embedded in Luke’s bone, he couldn’t

take them out. The surgeon opted to

shave down the rods so they wouldn’t

jut out.

“It was a pretty easy surgery,” says

Luke, comparing it to the first. “I could

walk right when I woke up. Also, since it

happened in the summer, I had no sports

going on that would be hindered.”

Luke is now in the junior year of his

high school career and is working his

way back to full ability. Currently, it is

wrestling season and he is bouncing between

the 171- and the 189-pound weight

classes, wherever his team needs him.

He has wrestled both on the Varsity A

and Varsity B teams, depending on the

tournament, again filling in where he is

needed.

He has one thing in mind now that he

has healed.

“My goal this year is to become the

best athlete I can be.”

Richardson sees that Luke is attaining

his goal.

“He entered this year about 20

pounds heavier, and I’m talking a quality

20 pounds, clearly he spent a lot of

time in the weight room,” Richardson

shares. “You can just see the confidence

that has given him when he practices

and competes. He’s a physical presence

when he walks on the mat. It becomes

even more evident when he actually

starts wrestling, he throws kids around

and makes it look easy. Our team has affectionately

nicknamed him ‘The Terminator’

this year. Not to say that this year

has been a smooth road. He’s had to deal

with skin issues, banged up nose issues

and a strained bicep to name a few of the

potholes he’s had to navigate. But Luke

has persevered to keep on contributing

in a big way. I think his past experiences

have given him a bit of a mental toughness

to deal with the setbacks he’s encountered

this season. It’s great to see as

a coach, because he’s going to be someone

we lean on in the future and he’s

molded himself into the kind of warrior

we need to lead our team.”

Luke shares what he hopes other athletes

take away from his experience.

“I learned that hard work and patience

truly does pay off. I remember

thinking every day during my downtime

about how amazing it would feel to run

and compete again. Though it takes

time, you’ll eventually get there.”

of NE Grand Rapids

(616) 647-4300

FEBRUARY, 2020 ROCKFORDROAR.COM 23

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