Last Monday, Travis Werner came back to school on crutches, his left leg stiff and swollen, his normal seat not too comfortable.
He's had better days in his life, but it was a good one overall — back with his peers after suffering one of the most gruesome sports injuries southern Oklahoma has ever seen.
"As i jumped the hurdle, I lost balance," Werner said. "Say you unplug your ears going underwater. I just felt that kind of pop through my whole body."
Werner, 14, knows he was fortunate. The Lone Grove freshman broke his femur running the 300-meter hurdles in the Madill Wildcat Invitational on March 29.
Coming down the straightaway, Werner's leg caught one of the hurdles and he came down awkwardly. All he knew after that was that he was in trouble.
"I saw my calf come up and hit me in the chest," Werner said. "I couldn't believe it; I was shocked. I was more scared than I was hurt."
When Werner hit the track, however, the pain overcame the shock. Medical staff and coaches at the meet quickly huddled around Werner to shield not just the crowd from the gruesome sight, but Werner himself from his injury.
Werner later said the pain was so great that he wanted to straighten his leg, which had taken an awkward position across the front of his body. Eyes to the sky, Werner was sprawled out on his back in front of the Madill home bleachers.
"It was like an overwhelming pain. It was excruciating," he said. "After a while, the coaches calmed me down. I was more concerned for my mom."
His mother, Janie Chatham, was on the track that day by pure happenstance. She usually spent her Friday afternoons at work at XTO Energy, but got permission from her boss to leave early to see Travis race.
"I was just thankful I did show up," Chatham said. "To see that leg just kinda flap over on him, I knew something was wrong. It scared me."
"After a while everything got real foggy," Werner said. "It started to hurt the more and more I layed there."
Luckily for Werner, Madill Emergency Medical Services responded quickly, meeting him on the track with an IV and keeping him stabilized until a helicopter was able to mediflight him to Oklahoma City.
Werner said he almost instantly knew for sure what he was dealing with thanks to his father, who suffered the same injury a year before in a wakeboarding accident in Kansas. A nurse practitioner on site confirmed Werner's thoughts: A clean break.
Later, Werner and his family found out that leg muscle was caught in between the broken bone. That would require another incision when he had surgery, in addition to the three cuts made to implant screws in two different areas and a metal rod.
Page 2 of 3 - "I knew what could have gone wrong," Werner said. "I could have bled to death before I got to the hospital, but I was just worried about my mom.
"Everybody felt like I was dying, but I was more concerned about what everyone else was thinking."
The support system
"I remember waking up looking at my nurse. A couple hours later, I decided to try and take a couple of steps."
On the morning of March 30, Werner underwent three hours of surgery at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City. Just hours after the surgery, Ridley sent out a video of Werner taking his first steps with the assistance of a walker.
Since then, the support from the surrounding area schools and churches has been immense, according to Werner.
"I'm blessed to have the friends I have; people praying for me is so much help," Werner said. "Churches from all around here are praying for me, people I don't even know are coming up to me 'Oh, man, I'm glad you're better.'... I like all the support. It's helped out a lot."
Some of the biggest helping hands have come from Werner's classmates and teammates at Lone Grove. Fellow freshman Brett Farve has been helping Werner around the house and he and teammate Jeremy Garrison made a special trip up to Oklahoma City to see Werner after his surgery.
"I think it's horrible that he snapped his femur, but he's recovering really good," Farve said. "Maybe whenever his leg gets better, I'll tell him to join the 100 (meter dash) or 200 with me. Or maybe the next time he does the hurdles, I'll do it with him."
Garrison, who is also a freshman, said that the worst went through his mind when he witnessed Werner's injury.
"I was afraid he was never gonna be able to walk again," said Garrison, who runs the same events as Werner, but was in the heat before him the day he was injured. "I thought the injury was a lot worse than it really is.
"I think it's amazing that he's recovered so fast. It makes me really appreciate the talent I have. I'm hoping in the near future, he's gonna be back out there running next to me again."
"Those are the kind of kids that we're proud to have across the board," Ridley said. "When you've got character kids like that, that are able to show some empathy and understand other people's situation it really makes for a more successful program.
"Travis is exactly that kind of kid. If the shoe were on the other foot, he would be one of those people right there in the middle trying to help somebody out."
Page 3 of 3 - The next steps
Understandably, there's a roboticness to Werner's movements. On a windy Tuesday at Lone Grove, he comes on to the track on crutches — an ever-so-slight bend at the knee — still searching for that athletic fluidity he had just weeks ago.
Chatham said he should be able to walk without the crutches soon. The timetable for returning to sports is unknown.
"From not walking on it for a while, I'm gonna need to gain that back," Werner said of the muscle in his leg.
Another fortunate thing for Werner is his age. He has three more years at Lone Grove to get back on the field or the track. Werner also participates in football for the Longhorns.
To Werner, there's no question as to whether or not he'll return.
"Yeah, of course," Werner said of competing again. "I like the sport, I like running hurdles. It's just a little bit of a setback.
"I was just on the wrong end of the stick. I'm not going to let it devastate me. It happened to other people; it happened to my dad. It could happen to anyone."
Follow Horne on Twitter: @ekhorneARD