OGDEN — Perspective is not a word commonly associated with high school boys. But Pedro DeLeon and the rest of his Ogden High cross country team are looking at things in a whole new light these days.
On Nov. 11, Pedro was wrestling with his cousin when things went very wrong.
“The takedown went wrong. I rocked myself back and forth, got up and I knew I needed to go to the hospital,” Pedro said from the living room of his Ogden home.
His mom rushed him to McKay-Dee Hospital, where he was X-rayed and told he had broken his neck. He was flown to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, then flown to University Hospital.
Pedro’s dad, Pedro DeLeon Sr., had terrible visions of his son’s future when his wife called and told him what was going on.
The family was told the vertebrae in Pedro’s neck needed to be realigned — a process that could paralyze him — before he could have surgery, which was needed but also dangerous.
“When they told us the pros and cons, my wife started crying just thinking about it,” DeLeon said.
Once the realignment was successfully completed — “they squeezed the heck out of my head,” Pedro said — the family felt great relief but were still worried about the surgery and the outcome.
Pedro and his family weren’t the only ones worried. After the accident, DeLeon reached one of Pedro’s cross country coaches, and from there, word — and worry — spread quickly.
Pedro’s team members remember reading the text from their coach about the accident.
Justin Sheets has lived across the street from Pedro since he was about 4.
“I felt so depressed and sad about it,” Justin said. He started worrying that Pedro could be paralyzed, and even when he realized Pedro wasn’t paralyzed, he still worried.
“I was just freaking out that my good friend could be hurt that badly.”
Teammates spread the word to their families, and they all wanted to help and do what they could, said teammate Jeremiah Robinson.
Teammate Carson Garner agrees, saying, “When you run together every single day, you are like brothers.”
Team members had a lot on their minds — they had a western states regional race in Arizona the Saturday after the accident. Pedro was a key piece to the state-championship team qualifying for a chance at a national title, but all of a sudden, that wasn’t at the forefront of his teammates’ minds.
“You put racing to the side when something like that happens,” Carson said.
But not Pedro. It was the first thing he thought of when told he had a broken neck and the first thing he thought of when put in a neck brace for six weeks.
“The first question he had when he came out of surgery was, ‘Am I going to be able to run?’ ” his father said.
But no one from the team let on that they were worried or disappointed about his missing the race, something that greatly impressed track and cross country coach Don Hall.
Hall has a special place in his heart for Pedro and his teammates. “I kind of adopted them. They are all just really tight, and their concern for his well-being was something special.”
Not much was said about Pedro missing the race until after the event. The boys didn’t finish as well as they had hoped and said afterward that things would have been different with Pedro’s participation.
Hall said he saw the boys put life into perspective pretty quickly.
“People get all wrapped up in a sport, but it changes things when someone is lying flat on their back.”
Both Pedro and his dad were surprised by the community support their family received. After a teammate’s father made some calls, dinners started coming in for Pedro’s family.
Many visitors also brought Pedro treats and gifts.
“We are one big family,” Pedro said of his teammates.
He’s also happy about the support he has received from other friends. “I didn’t know so many people would know or care.”
The doctors told him it could be four months before he can start running, but Pedro has set a goal to start running in three months.
He is recovering quickly. He can now get up without help, which makes him proud.
“I have a new look on life. I have been so blessed to be able to run. I could have been paralyzed on the spot, but I walked away, and I will be able to live life normal,” Pedro said.
His teammates feel the same way.
“It made me realize how fragile life is. You never think something like that is going to happen,” said teammate Jordan Cross.
DeLeon has new respect for his son. He watched as Pedro easily forgave his cousin, who was feeling guilty and responsible about the wrestling gone awry.
“He told him they would laugh about it later,” DeLeon said.
“His heart is so strong, and his will is so big. Nothing is going to keep him down. I’m proud to be his dad.”