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Taking steps to a title

'Cats' Bowers shakes paralyzing injury to chase mat dream

'Cats' Bowers shakes paralyzing injury to chase mat dream

January 14, 2004|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

Ryan Bowers' lifelong goal has been to win a Maryland state wrestling title.

But the Williamsport senior probably wouldn't have been overly distraught had he gone winless last weekend at the Hub Cup Invitational tournament.

Just by walking into the North Hagerstown gymnasium, Bowers made his story a feel-good one.

That he finished second in the 125-pound weight class at the Hub Cup makes it seem almost miraculous.

"I just try to live life to the fullest every day," Bowers said. "After being paralyzed, that's all I can do.

"It definitely changed my perspective on life. ... I'm just glad to be walking right now."

A collision with Woodlawn's Corey Lawson during the championship finals at the Damascus Tournament on Dec. 20 left Bowers with a bruised spinal cord and concussion - immediately resulting in temporary blindness and paralysis from the neck down. He was carried away on a stretcher and flown by helicopter from Damascus (Md.) High School to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he spent two nights recovering.

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"I was scared to death," Bowers said. "I felt helpless. I couldn't see, I couldn't move."

Bowers and Lawson were tied 3-3 in the third period when the accident occurred.

"It was two excellent wrestlers going at it in a real tight match," Williamsport coach Mike Rechtorovic said. "They were on their feet, and they both shot at the same time and knocked heads."

"He hit my temple right above his left eye," Bowers said. "I slid off to the side and caught his shoulder with my head and it bashed my head back. I was unconscious as soon as it happened.

"I regained consciousness, stood up and tried to walk back to the center of the mat and then went limp. They caught me and dragged me off the mat. ... I was paralyzed from the neck down."

He remained that way for several hours.

"At that point, I wasn't even thinking about wrestling again," Bowers said. "I just wanted to walk again."

By the next night, he was walking on his own. After spending the rest of the holiday season confined to his house while wearing a neck brace, Bowers was cleared by doctors to continue wrestling.

His first match back was the Wildcats' home dual meet against Hedgesville on Jan. 7. But the memories of his last bout still lingered.

"If I said I wasn't scared, I'd be lying. I had butterflies in my stomach," Bowers said. "But once I got out there, I tried not to think about it."

He pinned his opponent in the second period.

Three days later, Bowers captured Hub Cup runner-up honors, losing only to Frederick's Mark Tsikerdanos, the tourney's Outstanding Wrestler, in the finals.

"Stamina-wise, he's still not back to where he should be," Rechtorovic said. "But he's come back strong."

Bowers, a Washington County champ last year and fifth-place state finisher in 2002, is 10-2 this season and has 85 career wins. He said his goal is to reach 100 wins and the top of the state podium.

"I'm looking forward to hopefully winning a state title this year," he said. "That's been my goal since I've been a little kid."

But if his attempt falls short, it probably won't seem like the end of the world.

"I'm a completely different person now," Bowers said. "I could have been paralyzed from the neck down and always looking back and thinking how great I had it.

"Before, wrestling was first in my life. Now, I realize wrestling and everything else I am able to do are just privileges."

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