Sports

Running through the pain

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Sports had always been a big part of Kyle Bailey’s life. He was a four-year varsity soccer player at Decatur High School and dabbled in football and baseball growing up.

Bailey was even good enough to earn a roster spot on several Olympic Development teams during his high school days and played soccer at Green River Community College after his career at Decatur ended in 1999.

“I always did real well,” the 25-year-old said.

But Bailey admits he could have done better on the field. He admits he could have worked harder, had a better attitude and took a lot of things that came with being an athlete for granted. In other words, he wasn’t unlike many teenagers.

Everything changed July 24, 2004. That’s when Bailey’s perspective on life, as well as sports, took a drastic and devastating turn. It was the day Bailey’s right arm was amputated inside an operating room at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center after he was run over by a ski boat on Lake Tapps.

The accident proved to be the proverbial crossroads for Bailey. Things could have really turned ugly if he allowed the depression to take over. And who could blame Bailey if it did? He was an active 20-something, just starting to find his way in the world and now his dominant arm was gone.

Luckily, that never happened thanks, in large part, to Bryan Hoddle.

Since the accident, sports have again moved to the forefront of Bailey’s existence. After a chance meeting with Hoddle, one of the top amputee coaches in the world, Bailey is currently training seven days a week in hopes of qualifying for the 2008 United States Paralympic Track and Field Team in the 100-meter dash. The games will be held in Beijing, China.

Hoddle, who coached the US team during the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, saw a report on a local news broadcast about Bailey’s amputation and tracked him down.

“I knew he had really super soccer skills,” said Hoddle, who also teaches and coaches cross country at Tenino High School. “And I knew he wasn’t a track guy, but I told him he was welcome to move to Olympia and I would coach him. He would just have to do the things I asked of him.”

Bailey moved to Olympia in February and the rest is history.

“My goal is to go down there and take gold and break world records,” he said about China.

“When I woke up, my arm was missing.”

It was just your normal, run-of-the-mill summer day in Western Washington. The weather was hot and Bailey and three of his friends were taking full advantage of it.

The group was enjoying a lazy afternoon on Lake Tapps in a new ski boat owned by Bailey’s friend, Courtney. It was getting late in the day — not quite dusk, but close.

“We were going to pull the boat back in for the night and we decided to do some innertubing on our final run,” he said.

Bailey and Courtney both got on the innertube and were “wrestling around” while skipping across the water. She eventually fell off the tube and about “five seconds later” Bailey was also ejected. The two other people in the boat, fellow 1999 Decatur grads Charlie Gillespie and Walter Hinman, saw both of them fall into the water and eventually turned the boat around to circle back and pick them up.

“They floored it and the nose settled down and they didn’t see me and the propeller went right through my arm,” Bailey said. “I eventually asked for help and told them that I think you broke my arm. They knew that I didn’t ask for help if I didn’t really need it.”

The scene that ensued resembled something from the movie “Jaws.” Blood colored Lake Tapps red before Hinman dove into the water and dragged Bailey into the back of the boat.

“We made a tourniquet with a beach towel and went to the closest house we saw and had them call 911,” Bailey said. “Luckily, the people were home. But the weird thing is nobody was freaking out and everybody did everything right. We all knew we had to get a tourniquet on.”

Bailey’s right arm was mangled and he was losing massive amounts of blood. It took about five minutes for the aid car to arrive and at that point he had lost so much blood that he wasn’t feeling any pain. Bailey was immediately rushed to Tacoma General Hospital and eventually airlifted to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.

“They cut it off that night right above the elbow,” Bailey said. “When I got to Harborview, I was kind of zoning in and out because of the drugs they had given me and when I woke up, my arm was missing.”

The amputation didn’t come as a big surprise to Bailey after seeing what his arm looked like after the accident.

“I expected it.”

He spent five days in Harborview and dozens of friends and family lined up outside Bailey’s room waiting for a chance to visit.

“There was just a ton of people every day. It was real nice. They would feel so bad that they would just start crying. But that might have been the best part of it. Seeing how much everybody cared.”

Crossroads

The first couple months after the accident were tough on Bailey, which was to be expected. Bailey not only lost an arm, but it was his dominant right arm. He had to learn to do everything over again.

Things he took for granted like writing, tying his shoes and eating were now major accomplishments.

“It was tough,” he said. “Before it was just fun, fun, fun. I was a whitewater raft guide, I was a high-rope instructor and a counselor for a sixth-grade camp. Those were my jobs. I was just out having fun all day and doing things that I love to do.

“It was a big change.”

Bailey saw numerous counselors and therapists and there were times that he wasn’t all there, according to Gillespie, who moved into Bailey’s Federal Way home for a few months following the accident.

“There were multiple people calling us to see if we were mentally stable afterwards,” Gillespie said. “I think he’s shown he’s not only was stable, but has clearly shown his mentality has only gotten stronger even after someone said to me, ‘yeah he’s strong now and acts happy, but we’ll see in a couple months.’”

Olympic Dreaming

Following the meeting with Hoddle and the subsequent move to a house in Olympia with his girlfriend, Lexi See, Bailey’s focus turned solely to making the 2008 US Paralympic Team.

“He has the physical tools and the family support to do this and that’s very important,” Hoddle said. “You need some friends and you need a really good support network. He has God-given ability that I’ve had nothing to do with.”

During Bailey’s eight months of track training, he’s taken over two seconds off his 100-meter time and is currently running in the 11.7 to 11.8 range. The one-arm amputees who qualified for the 2004 Paralympic Games had to run under an 11.2 to make the U.S. team.

“I think he has a legitimate shot in ‘08,” Hoddle said. “If he takes care of his training and everything off the track, like sleeping and all those things, he can do it. Being a champion is a lifestyle and the rest of the world is taking the Paralympics really serious.”

The Paralympics are elite sport events for athletes from six different disability groups — amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability and a group which includes all those who don’t fit into another category.

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