Atlanta Coach Battles Back From Diving Injury

Spine Injury

- William Wolf seems most at home, when he’s coaching his student on St. Pius X’s 8th grade boys basketball team.

"I love seeing them grow as young men,” Wolf says.

The 28-year old coach has grown a lot, too, in ways he never expected, since his life changed course on May 30, 2015.

He’d just come back to his Decatur apartment complex from a festival, when he dove into the pool, like he’d done “1,000 times.”

Immediately, Wolf knew something was wrong.

"It was just a weird dive, I didn't feel right doing it,” he says.  "My head hit the bottom of the pool and I heard a crack and I couldn't move anything."

Wolf's roommate and best friend rescued him. 

"She told me that she just saw this fear in my eyes that she had never seen before,” he says.

Rushed by ambulance to the Grady Trauma Center, the coach had broken his neck, suffering what's known as an "incomplete" C3 spinal cord injury.  That means his spinal cord was damaged but wasn't severed.

"I prayed a lot,” Wolf remembers. “I've never prayed that much in my life."

Grady surgeons fused the vertebrae in Wolf's neck to stabilize it,  telling his parents it would probably take 2 or 3 years before he'd walk again, if he ever walked again.

"It was very hard for me to accept that fact that I was going to be put in a wheelchair," Wolf says.

Then, lying there in Grady, the tiniest sign of hope.

"I wiggled my toes a little bit,” Wolf says. “And I was like, 'Holy cow! I'm doing that!’"

Less than a week later Wolf was transferred to Shepherd Center.

That's when the coach became the student.   Dr. Anna Elmers, a specialist in rehabilitation and physical medicine, oversaw Wolf's rehabilitation, watching as he powered through hours of physical, occupational, and recreational therapy.

"And so, first into the gym, last one out.”  Dr. Elmers says. “It was great. It's good to work with a coach because they know what they need to do to get to where they need to be."

Wolf says he stood up for the first time June 8th.

"I stood up for about 8 seconds and I almost passed out,” he says.

The next day, Wolf took his first step, which was both thrilling and terrifying.

“Learning to walk again was the scariest thing I've ever had to do,” he says.

Yet, Wolf says he never thought not to push himself.

"If God gave me the ability to make a miraculous comeback, I'm not going to take that for granted,” he says.”

Now, nearly 8 months later, coaching his team in a game against Lovett, Wolf knows he is incredibly lucky.  Many diving injuries are devastating.

Shepherd Center says diving is one of the most preventable causes of spinal cord injuries.

"Just don't dive anywhere,” Dr. Elmers says. “Don't dive into the ocean. Don't dive into a creek.  I mean I've seen some of the smartest kids have life-changing injuries."

William Wolf has become the comeback coach. He’s teaching his boys you get what you give.  So, play with everything you've got.

To learn more about preventing diving injuries, visit shepherd.org/resources/injuryprevention/diving


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