Gorman: Quigley's Koshut overcomes bumps
Their backyard game of catch started at 10 feet. As they warmed up, Bill Koshut backed up until he was standing a pitcher's mound to home plate away from his son.
Will was in a wheelchair.
It was a summer spent seated, not idle. Whether playing catch, shooting pucks into a net or chipping with a golf club, Will Koshut was active while recovering from surgery to repair a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
“If people really knew the detail of everything he's gone through, they wouldn't believe it,” Bill said. “It's a story about perseverance.”
Will inherited from his father not only a love of sports but also a rare disease. Multiple osteochondromatosis, also known as hereditary multiple exostoses, allows tumors to form at the end of growth plates of long bones, often at joints. When the pain becomes intolerable, the bumps must be removed.
“Will has a lot of them, but we only address those that are a hindrance,” said his mother, Lynn. “You can see them, but unless they are bothering a joint, we only get the ones screaming the loudest.”
Now 17, Will has had seven surgeries to remove tumors, almost one a year since the third grade. Lynn calls Will's legs a “road map” in talking about the “major scars” from operations on his right ankle, left knee, left wrist, right wrist, right knee and left knee again.
The bumps can be debilitating. One partially tore a rotator cuff, forcing Will to adjust his throws to a three-quarters arm angle from third base. One bent his right ring finger at a 20-degree angle. Another partially tore the MCL, forcing the reconstructive surgery.
“I never thought in a million years having all those surgeries that it would actually come out to something good,” Will said. “It's been a roller coaster of a sports career, to say the least. It's been worth it. Anything to play baseball, I don't care the price. I do the best with what I have.”
Remarkably, Will returned to play golf, where the 6-handicap won an individual section title last fall. Now the Quigley Catholic junior is starting for the varsity baseball team and is the recipient of the WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association's fourth annual John Challis Memorial Award.
“After any one of the surgeries, he could have given up on sports,” WBCA spokesman Tony Villiotti said. “It symbolized what the Challis story was: He had something to overcome and kept fighting it.”
Challis drew national attention for playing baseball for Freedom while battling liver and lung cancer, providing inspiration with his positive perspective and motto of Courage + Believe = Life before his death in August 2008. Will Koshut has added Challis' initials and motto under the bill of his cap.
“I still remember watching the ESPN stories on John Challis. I didn't know that four years later I would be connected in some way,” said Will, of Chippewa. “What got me the most was how he made the best of it and wanted to make sure you knew how to live the rest of your life. At a time where he could feel bad for himself, he was the most unselfish person.”
Quigley coach Joe Kirschner believes Koshut's similar selfless nature — he rooted for teammates from his wheelchair — built camaraderie. Will's limited mobility prompted a move to first base — not the ideal position for a right-hander, let alone one who stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 140 pounds.
“He's not very big in stature, but his heart is tremendous,” Kirschner said. “Hopefully it will bleed onto some of these other guys, to see what he's had to overcome and move forward.”
Will made the same switch as his sports hero, Albert Pujols, who once handed him a batting practice ball. Will's personal idol, however, is Dr. Jan S. Grudziak of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, who has inspired Will to become a pediatric orthopedic surgeon so he “can help kids out.” With a 4.47 grade-point average, he ranks first in his class and has been accepted to a summer program at Stanford.
Will says sports “absolutely” played a role in his recovery.
“Honestly, I don't know where I'd be if I didn't have something to strive for,” he said. “I can't imagine sitting around and sulking about my condition and how much better things would be if I did have good health and a normal childhood and have the best talent in these sports. I've seen enough stitches and spent nights in hospital that it doesn't bother me. The emotional scars come from when I've seen my teammates run out there and I couldn't do anything.”
Will Koshut's visible scars provide a road map for others to follow.
Once you get past the bumps, you do the best with what you have.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.