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Aaron Falk: Davis pole vaulter battles back after shooting

Published May 18, 2013 4:18 pm

Prep track • Senior competes at state meet three years after horrific hunting accident.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo

He had failed to clear the bar twice already, so Andrew Spilker only had one more attempt to extend his high school track career.

He was frustrated with himself. He had cleared the height before, even if his form, they way he launched himself with both legs, looked different than the other pole vaulters.

There was, of course, a reason for that.

Flaming Gorge. Sept. 26, 2009, six days after Spilker turned 15.

Spilker was with his father and two brothers, hunting in remote country when the accident happened. The boy stood up with his .50-caliber black powder rifle in hand. He doesn't know how it went off.

His older brother used the Army medic training he had never had to use in Iraq as Andrew bled from his back and belly.

It took three hours for the helicopter to get him to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Spilker was awake the whole time.

The bullet had hit his kidney and nicked the vena cava, the body's largest vein. A centimeter one way it would have hit the spine. A centimeter another and it would have hit the liver.

Michelle Spilker lived in a trailer in the hospital's parking lot for three months that fall and winter. She was there when her son's lungs failed and when the doctors gave her son a 5 percent chance of recovery using an experimental technique.

She was there when the doctors said the boy's recovery was "as close to the resurrection" as she was going to see.

Before the accident, Andrew Spilker ran track and played football and basketball and soccer. After the accident, Andrew Spilker relearned how to walk.

The physical therapy was grueling. It took months and months.

"I guess," the boy says and pauses, his tears causing a stranger's, "I just wouldn't stop going."

When Andrew told his mother this year he planned to pole vault on the Davis track team, Michelle was initially skeptical. She was also at the hospital for her son's bout with gangrene, when the doctors had to remove most of the muscle tissue in his back.

She figured that would be important in pole vaulting.

But Andrew Spilker wasn't discouraged. He fought through it, using that adapted technique to clear 11 feet, 6 inches this season to qualify for state.

So on Friday, with one last chance to extend his high school career, Spilker made his approach and pushed off in to the air. For a third time, he missed his mark.

It was an incredible day.

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @aaronfalk