It was a Friday afternoon in March, and Hank Shipman was warming up in the outfield at Spring Mobile Ballpark, preparing to take the field for the first time in almost a year.
Rowland Hall coach Ben Voegele approached Shipman and offered a little perspective.
Rowland Hall baseball players Hank Shipman, Jake Graves and Zac Merrill were injured in a car accident one year ago Monday. Shipman, a junior, suffered multiple injuries and spent almost two months in the hospital. After more than 1,000 hours of rehab, Shipman is back playing second base. Shipman said his competitive nature helped push him through the hours of physical therapy.
"He whispered in my ear something along the lines of, ‘Think about where you were a year ago. Can you even believe this?’ " Shipman said. "And I kind of stepped back and thought, ‘This is crazy.’ "
The Winged Lion rallied to defeat Ben Lomond that day in a comeback that pales in comparison to the one Shipman is making.
One year ago Monday, Shipman was nearly killed in a car accident when an SUV carrying six Rowmark Ski Academy members and one coach was hit by an oncoming Jeep as it returned from Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort in Oregon.
Shipman suffered four broken vertebrae, spinal-cord damage, paralysis on his left side, a compound fracture of his left femur and a concussion. He spent 10 days in an Oregon hospital, then another 36 days at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
After more than 1,000 hours of rehabilitation and physical therapy, Shipman has kept the promise he made while lying in his hospital bed, 40 pounds lighter, when doctors still weren’t sure he’d ever walk again.
"I promised I’d be back," he said, in reference to baseball. "It’s kind of been a miracle."
Shortstop Jake Graves suffered a broken right arm, and center fielder Zac Merrill was left with a broken wrist. All three are back in the starting lineup, but it’s the sight of No. 12 in emerald and black has amazed coaches and teammates alike.
"The fact that Hank’s out here playing when it was touch and go whether he was ever going to walk again, it’s an amazing story," Voegele said. "All three of them are inspirations to the coaching staff.
"It was a reality check and made you put things in perspective. I don’t know if I could have done what they did coming back."
At the team’s first practice Feb. 28, the plan was for Shipman to be more coach than player, as he continued to regain strength and mobility.
"The first day, I tried warming up with someone and didn’t catch a single ball," Shipman said. "The left side of my body had lost all strength, and the right side lost all sensation. I still have problems with both, but it’s not nearly as bad. Playing baseball has already made my left arm twice as strong as it was."
He was in the lineup as designated hitter for the Winged Lions’ first four games of the season in Kanab, and on March 24 he was the starting second baseman against Ben Lomond.
"Knowing Hank and his personality, I would expect him to be out here," said Graves, Shipman’s best friend. "He has the best drive in anybody I know. It’s pretty incredible to have watched his recovery."
Shipman, a team captain, isn’t all the way back, but estimates he’s at about 85 percent. There is a gait in his stride — the rod is his left leg was removed in February — and his reaction time in the field is slow.
"My goal at second is usually to just block the ball," Shipman said. "I let it hit me in the stomach or the leg, and I can pick it up and throw it. My reaction time is slow, but it works."
Memories of the life-changing accident remain. "It still hits me pretty hard," he said. "I’ve come to grips with it to where it doesn’t bother me." But the crash has given him a new direction in life.
The time spent rehabilitating inspired the 16-year-old, who now plans to attend medical school.
"My physical therapists have taught me how cool it is to help people that way," Shipman said.
And though he hasn’t decided whether he will ever ski race again, he will be back on the slopes Monday. Shipman and Scotty Veenis, the ski coach and driver of the SUV who also was critically injured, plan to commemorate the anniversary of the accident at Park City Mountain Resort.
"It’s going to be an awesome celebration," he said.
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