EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. —
When Penn Cambria graduate Patrick Myers was lying in a hospital nearly a year ago, he wasn’t sure if he would wrestle again.
“It was hard for me because wrestling is what I do,” said Myers, who was a redshirt freshman at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville when the injury occurred. “To see it might be gone, it was difficult.”
Myers was injured in a match at Northern Illinois. He fractured two vertebrae in his neck and was placed in a brace that limited his movement.
“It happened in the first period. My opponent was going in on a double, and he picked me up and twisted my body weird,” Myers said. “I landed hard on my chest forcing me to snap my head back. I don’t know how exactly it broke my neck.”
Despite the injury, Myers finished the match.
“He completed the next two periods – four more minutes – and he wrestled tough and competed hard the rest of the match,” Southern Illinois-Edwardsville coach David Ray said.
“I thought I just had a concussion because my symptoms after the match were getting worse,” Myers said. “We went to the hospital, and they did an X-ray.”
Ray monitored Myers during his time in the hospital.
“It went from a low-priority situation to a severe, high-priority situation,” Ray said.
For four months, Myers watched as his teammates finished out the season and advanced to the postseason.
Myers said his family and friends suggested he end his wrestling career, but that the decision was to be solely his own. The fracture healed on its own without surgery or significant complications.
This year, Myers leads the Cougars with 20 victories as the team heads to its first Southern Conference (SoCon) Championships Saturday in Lexington, Va.
“I am just happy I was able to walk after that match because with a broken neck there is a possibility I could have been paralyzed,” he said. “My first reaction to them taking it off and saying I could start therapy was to get my neck stronger.”
The neck braces Myers used restricted head movement. He also was restricted in the weight room.
“I had to get a backpack that was on wheels and wasn’t allowed to lift books,” said Myers.
After getting approval from doctors to start rehabilitation, Myers worked to gain strength back in his neck.
“Even my first practice I tried to wrestle in, I didn’t have any muscle in my neck strong enough to come up with a shot,” he said. “I talked to (assistant coach) Donovan (McMahill) about it and told him I was scared, but I worked on it more and more and it seemed to come back to me.”
Myers sat down with McMahill after the first practice and talked about everything a wrestling coach does with a student-athlete – technique, the mental side of competition and what it takes to be successful.
“You have to go all in because nothing is guaranteed and tomorrow he could have another injury and could never do it again,” McMahill said. “You might as well make the most out of every opportunity you have. I think it has helped him gain that perspective on wrestling.”
Ray said Myers did a great job of recovery.
“I think it was tough on him at first,” Ray said. “Being young and resilient, his body is healthy. He is healthy. He takes care of himself.”
Myers looked to teammate Kyle Lowman for inspiration. Lowman suffered a neck injury while pole vaulting and continues to be competitive on the mat.
“Some of them were even surprised I did come back to wrestle, but I was thinking to myself the whole time about Kyle Lowman,” Myers said. “He was in a halo (brace). If he can keep wrestling then why can’t I? That just kept going in the back of my mind whether or not I should continue to wrestle.”
Myers said he doesn’t see himself much differently now than before the injury occurred.
“I was aggressive then. I’m back to being aggressive now,” he said.
“I want to say I started off slow (at) being aggressive. I was always waiting for people to shoot on me so I could try that easy go behind, but I knew I couldn’t be successful if I’m all defense. I like to get my own offense going so I had to work towards strengthening my neck, working on my shots.”
Ray said Myers maintained his focus.
“He did not let this interfere one bit with his practicing and preparation,” Ray said. “He took this new year and didn’t hold back.”
A competitive nature is something that keeps Myers going. He is even competitive with board games and rock, paper, scissors.
“We’ve got good competitors on the team,” Myers said. “One of my goals was to have more than 20 wins.”
Myers is working on a degree in elementary education and hopes to teach math someday.
“I’ll do anything. I’ll start with the little kids and work my way up,” he said.