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Journey to a Strong Back

Journey to a Strong Back

by Kyle Borden

kylebordenHappy birthday, Kyle! Really? Two days after I turn 16, I feel like an old man. I am lying in a hospital bed. A nurse shorter than my younger sister injects the IV into my vein. What if I can never walk again? What happens to basketball?

“Are you ready to go night-night?” The nurse’s tone is fit to entice a two-year-old to go to bed. Her voice freaks me out, but only for a few seconds. My eyelids begin to feel like sand bags– three, two, one, out! Back surgery begins.

Ten hours later, I wake up and my body feels like a lead block. I cannot move and have no idea where I am. I look over my right shoulder and see my family.

A day later, another nurse stands where I saw my family when I woke up.

“Time to get out of bed!”  she says with excitement in her voice. Sounding like a nursery school teacher trying to move a class of kindergartners, she pushes a grandma walker towards me. “On three, you’re going to have to sit up and turn your body.” She counts to three and I try sitting up. It feels like I have a bullet lodged into my spine.

“We‘re going to take some steps today!” I can barely sit up by myself. How am I supposed to get out of bed, let alone walk? I struggle to sit up and slowly edge my way out of bed. What used to take seconds turns into a five minute process. I grab the walker and grimace as I stand. My legs are so weak that they feel like two pieces of uncooked spaghetti. One inch at a time; that’s how big my steps are. First stop is the bathroom. I turn and looked in the mirror. I haven’t seen my reflection in two days. The man in the mirror is skinny and famished. I feel like less of a person. Over the next year, I would learn a lot about myself and discover ways to conquer my flaws.

The pain started Christmas Eve of my freshman year. After a game, cramps tore through my back as if something were pulling it to the floor. The agitation continued after games; I began seeing doctors who all had different ideas. One said it was a nerve problem. No, it was a joint problem. How about a nerve and joint problem? These diagnoses went on for over a year. Not knowing what was wrong killed me. I thought I was going to have to give up basketball.

Finally, my parents took me to a surgeon. “Lift your leg.” I lifted two inches off the ground and winced. “You need surgery.” I was fifteen at the time; that was the last thing I wanted to hear.

Overcoming spondylolysis, a spine defect, changed my life. Doctors placed titanium rods into my back. After three days in the hospital, I spent the remainder of the summer indoors. Each morning started with three different painkillers– none of them worked. Steps were my worst enemy– I faced fifteen of them daily.

The only rehab for me was walking. While it was dangerous for me to walk on inclines, go up steps, or sit down too fast, being able to walk flickered some hope into my heart. I would never take another step for granted.

The words, “You need surgery,” reframed my entire life. I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason in this world. This was the very beginning of a stormy rain cloud with that silver lining. My recovery process allowed me to see the world through a new lens. I would not take back what happened for the world, because then I would cease to exist. I would be someone else. Every high and every low made…me.

Kyle Borden, a 2015 graduate of The Hun School of Princeton, just began his freshman year at Franklin and Marshall College.

The Captain’s Steps

by Ashlynn Sarubbi

Thanks to me, we begin the same step over again. This is my fifth screw up. I reach my tipping point when the captain mocks me in front of everyone:

“Because of Ashlynn, we have to start all over.”

I can take no more. I grab my bag.

“Do it on your own,” I yell at her.

I’m quitting, I tell myself. But I do not make it out of the building without reconsidering my decision. I am not a quitter. In fact, two years later, the girl that messed up the steps that day— me —becomes captain of the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula Step Team. I trace my resilience to the eve of Valentine’s Day, 2005.

I am nine years old sitting on my bed wrapping candy in colored paper when the phone rings. My mom answers and then begins to cry. She grabs her stuff and runs out of the house. It is 8:00 PM. She never leaves the house this late. She returns hours later with news: my father is dead, the victim of a fatal bullet. Instead of crying, I sit in silence in the dark. He has already missed so much. He promised me that he would make it up to me, but he would now miss the rest of my life.

My mother is a police officer. My father was an ex-convict. For as long as I can remember, Dad was always the absent parent. He was imprisoned shortly after my birth, leaving my 18-year-old mother to raise me on her own. He was not released until I was seven. I sometimes found it hard to let go of the resentment. I had grown up without a father for so long that it became normal. Months before his death, I began opening up to him, and our relationship became stronger. He stressed the importance of never giving up and not making the mistakes that he made in life. He told me he had been offered a basketball scholarship to the University of Michigan. He chose another life that landed him in jail. He convinced me to be different and to create a better path than his.

My dad’s poor decisions eventually cost him his life. However, his faults helped me learn how to become the person he dreamed I could be. In reality, he had not let me down completely as he demonstrated what my life could become if I did not follow his advice.

My mother, on the other hand, has always been there for me. She grew up in poverty and was left to raise me alone. She eventually returned to college and became a police officer. My mother demonstrates the value in my father’s theory of not giving up. He didn’t live that life, but Mom displayed it brilliantly, and her model compelled me to stay on the step team that day. After all, my mother has faced many difficulties on her own. So I kept practicing those steps until I perfected them–even when it meant practicing longer and not going out with my friends. In doing so, I follow my mom who made choices that are the opposite of my dad’s. She shows me that it is possible to be strong enough to withstand even the most challenging obstacles and to stay clear of those who may be a distraction to me.

Two years ago, I was en route to leaving the building and quitting the team. Instead, I turned back, knowing that I could not be a quitter. It was not part of who I was or who I wanted to become. With the forgiveness of my coach and the team, I vowed to my teammates that I would never let them down again.

My father once told me I was a “Sarubbi” and I could be whatever I wanted to be. My big moment of triumph came last spring. I sat in a circle talking and playing around with my teammates. My coach called me to the hallway. I became very nervous. When we got to the hallway, he began a speech about what was expected of the team members and the captains. I thought I was being removed from the team. Finally, my coach announced that I had been promoted to Captain of the team.

Ashlynn Sarubbi, a 2013 graduate of Academy of Mount Saint Ursula, is a freshman at Franklin and Marshall.