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Golfers start to recover

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2002

FORD CITY: When Ryan Pinkerton came to, he wasn't asking about his partially severed arm or shattered pelvis.

In fact, he wasn't yet aware of the extent of his injuries when he opened his eyes in a UPMC Presbyterian hospital bed.

"When I woke up, I asked my mom, 'Why am I here?' " Pinkerton remembers. "She said, 'You were in a wreck.'

"I said, 'How are my golf clubs?'"

Pinkerton, a 16-year-old Ford City senior golf standout, was involved in a serious vehicle accident July 9 along Route 66. Ford City golf teammate Brett Powers, a junior, was a passenger in the car driven by Pinkerton.

The friends were returning home from lunch after a morning round of 18 holes at Lenape Heights Golf Course when Pinkerton's Buick Skylark reportedly veered across the middle line of 66 and collided with a truck carrying cement blocks.

Pinkerton's left arm was almost separated from his body. Doctors managed to reattach it properly, although Pinkerton said it could have been different had he been older.

"They almost had to cut it off," said Pinkerton, a right-handed golfer and a three-year starter for the Sabers. "They used pins and metal plates to put it back on. They said it helped that I was young. If not, they probably would not have tried to save it."

Powers suffered a broken leg and brain contusion, and had his spleen removed.

"I had a (2-year-old) grandson in Children's Hospital at the same time they were in," said Ford City golf coach Ralph Taylor. "When he fell asleep, I would walk over to UPMC to visit the boys.

"After looking at their car - the dashboard was inches from the back seat - they are both very lucky to be alive."

Pinkerton had four words for Taylor when he saw his coach enter the room.

"He said, 'Hi coach, I'm sorry,' " Taylor said.

Pinkerton said his car might have hydro-planed, being that the roads were wet that afternoon. But details of the crash are moot. They are in the past, where the teen boys would like them to stay.

"It's hard to explain what it's like for us," said Pinkerton, a 4 handicap and the area's lone returning male player to qualify for the WPIAL championships. "It's hard to put it into words. You never think something like that could happen to you."

Pinkerton and Powers, who spent four weeks in the hospital, don't ask why they survived the crash, or how they got to the hospital. They remember very little about the day that changed their lives.

All they know is they were given the ultimate mulligan - a second chance at life.

"We look at life a little differently now," said Powers, 15. "You realize people take too much for granted. Believe me, I have learned not to let everyday things bother you as much."

Coming back

Weeks have passed since the accident, but Pinkerton and Powers continue their journeys back. Back to school. Back to hobbies. Back to golf.

Right now, though, their concern is with daily life, and how they'll get it back to normal. They sit in wheelchairs - Powers has begun to use crutches - but try not to dwell on the past.

They talk about the accident in a low tone of voice, but quickly turn up the volume as they discuss a comeback to the golf course.

It may be October before they begin walking again, but they are already talking about playing again.

"We're getting there, slowly," Pinkerton said. "It will probably be December or January before I start swinging again. I can't wait to get back out there."

Powers said he wants to start walking by Sept. 16.

"It will take a while to get the normal walking motion down," said Powers, a left-handed golfer. "I expect to golf again in February. My goal is to walk 18 holes. Maybe I'll be able to do that by January."

Overall, the boys are not expected to be back on their feet until after eight weeks or more of therapy and rehabilitation.

Making the grade

Pinkerton and Powers will not return to high school this semester. They will be home-schooled, and Pinkerton was granted a "redshirt" year by the WPIAL.

"He has a positive attitude and wants to come back," Taylor said. "He'll get to play his senior year over again. (The WPIAL) expects him to be back the second semester, which makes him eligible to be redshirted."

Said Pinkerton: "I'm not allowed any schooling this semester. I just can't do it, with therapy and all that. I plan to take a couple classes the second semester."

Powers will not need a redshirt year for athletics, since last season was his first on the team. But he will graduate a year late, after receiving homeschooling.

While he waits things out, Powers, who will be 16 Tuesday, is pursuing his driver's permit.

"I can get my permit September third, so I'm studying hard for the test now," Powers said.

A good Samaritan

As Pinkerton and Powers headed home from lunch at Pitzer's Crooked Creek Inn, restaurant owner Frank Pitzer coincidentally left work at the same time.

He was driving behind Pinkerton and Powers at the time of the accident. He pulled over and immediately offered assistance when he saw the collision.

"I saw them at the restaurant, but I didn't realize it was them in the car until I saw them inside," Pitzer said. "I said, 'Oh my God, I know these guys.' "

Pitzer leaned into the battered car.

"I went to the passenger side and I saw Brett," Pitzer said. "I didn't even realize Ryan was in there because I couldn't see him. I heard something, it sounded like water running, but it was Ryan trying to breathe. I lifted his head up."

Pinkerton and Powers later returned to Pitzer's and gave the owner an engraved plaque as thanks.

An inscription on the plaque reads: "You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."

It was a quote from legendary college basketball coach John Wooden.

"I was in shock just to see how well they were doing," Pitzer said. "They seem ready to get back to everyday life."

And, down the road: "They promised to give me lessons," Pitzer said.

"Some people don't think when they see an accident," Pinkerton said. "People like Frank think about everything."

Friends by design

Pinkerton and Powers became friends through golf, playing 36 holes a day during the summer while waging friendly bets for skins.

But the accident brought them even closer, especially since Powers gave Pinkerton advice before they got into the car following lunch that day.

Powers advised Pinkerton to buckle up.

"Ryan said thanks to Brett," Taylor said. "Because he said he never wore a seatbelt."

"He always wore his, and I sometimes have a tendency to put mine on," Pinkerton said. "Now it's a must. It's a good choice."

Tons of support

Team members, friends and family have overwhelmed the boys with cards, balloons and get-well messages.

Pinkerton and Powers have attended team practices, and said they might attend a match or two to pay back that support.

"I could see the hurt in their eyes (when they came to practice)," Taylor said. "We have sort of dedicated our season to them. A lot of the team members are rallying around them."

Pinkerton said his sister, Alisha, has been particularly supportive, helping him get around the house.

"We have received support from day one," Powers said.

In between doctor visits, Pinkerton enjoys playing "Tiger Woods" Golf on PlayStation 2.

"It helps me pass the time," he said. "It keeps me thinking about golf. Plus, it helps my fingers with the therapy."

As for Pinkerton's clubs?

"They're OK," Pinkerton said. "But I was hoping to get new ones."

After what he and Powers have been through, a few extra slots should open up on their Christmas lists.

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