Matt Wagner, a South Lakes junior who severed his spinal cord Thursday in a pole vaulting mishap at Herndon, said yesterday he has accepted the fact he will be paralyzed from the waist down and will try to rehabilitate himself to the maximum.
Wagner, whose best career jump was 11 feet 6, was attempting to clear 10-0 in a dual meet in preparation for this week's Great Falls District meet. He had planted the pole in the metal anchor box, but he got only about six feet off the ground before his top hand slipped off the pole and he fell into the box itself, breaking his spine on impact.
"I hit the plant, and my hand slipped," Wagner said from his Fairfax Hospital room, where he will remain the next two weeks. "I think I blacked out somewhere, but the next thing I knew, people were all around. I knew I was hurt because I couldn't feel anything."
Last year, in the district meet, Wagner said he had a similar accident but was not seriously injured. Dr. Jeffrey Malka, an orthopedic surgeon who operated on Wagner, said the paralysis is permanent.
"He broke the spine and completely severed the spinal cord," Malka said. "He will have no feeling or motion. There is a process of rehabilitation, but it is rehabilitation to learn how to live with this, and how to use a wheelchair. Considering the things these kids do and the heights they jump, it is amazing this type of thing does not happen more often."
"It was one of those unfortunate things that happen," said South Lakes Athletic Director Carl Zaleski. "No one could predict it. Coaches were standing right there, but it happened so quick, no one could do anything about it. Emergency medical teams were there within minutes."
South Lakes Coach Garnett Million said Wagner, who learned to pole vault as a freshman, used the same pole he used in the past. Fairfax County school safety inspectors went to Herndon the following day, Million said, and found that the facilities met safety standards.
Wagner said he hopes to be fitted within the next few days with a brace that will allow him to sit up. He will continue his rehabilitation for at least two months at a hospital in Charlottesville.
"We're looking now at getting Matt into a rehabilitation program," said his father, Bob Wagner. "The short-range goal, which we think is a very realistic goal . . . is for him to join his class in September and finish up with his class at South Lakes High School." He added that for the Wagner family, the accident "has not affected our attitude toward athletics or sports at all."
"I know I will never walk again, but you have to make the best of these things," said Matt Wagner. "Life must go on -- you can't spend the rest of your life sulking. I have done a lot of thinking about a lot of things the past few days. The main thing I have thought about is what other people will think, but I am going to try and make the most of what I can."