Up off the mat: the recovery of Dale Lawrence

Published: Thursday, Oct. 20 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

Former Wasatch High wrestler Dale Lawrence talks with assistant coach Bobby Salazar prior to the school's football game.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

HEBER CITY — In January, Dale Lawrence suffered a tragic wrestling accident while putting a move on his teammate during practice at Wasatch High School.

Hampered with a spinal cord injury so severe it was compared to the late Christopher Reeves' paraplegic condition, doctors weren't sure if the high school senior would ever move again from the neck down.

They were even uncertain if Lawrence would ever breathe on his own again.

In an emotional moment at his alma mater's football game Thursday night, Lawrence proudly did both.

Before kickoff, the teenager, who no longer requires a ventilator to breathe, held onto a walker and received assistance from an athletic trainer to lift himself out of his wheelchair. He then ceremoniously lit the "W" in the southeastern corner of Wasatch's stadium.

For a young man who's nicknamed "Super Dale," this was one of his most super moments.

Fittingly, the touched crowd gave him a standing ovation.

The football team, including many of his former wrestling and football teammates, supportively chanted together, "Dale! Dale! Dale!"

"It's awesome," Lawrence, who has a scar on his neck where a tracheostomy tube used to go, said of his special night.

Awesome is also one way you could describe the progress Lawrence has made since his neck was seriously injured and his spine compressed in the cervical area.

"I think it's nothing short of a miracle," Wasatch principal Shawn Kelly said.

"He's amazed me a lot," his mother, Kelly Giles, added.

Lawrence's early medical prognosis was bleak.

The family was warned that he might be quadriplegic and that his lungs would permanently need a ventilator's assistance.

"They weren't even sure I was going to get any movement back at all," he said. "But I guess they were wrong."

He made sure of it.

Ever an optimist and a hard worker, Lawrence was determined to move again shortly after he regained consciousness on the wrestling mat and was informed of the gravity of his situation.

"I was sure I was going to get it back to begin with. I thought I would anyways," Lawrence said. "I think in a few months, hopefully, I'll be walking a little on my own — just a few steps at that, hopefully. Little by little."

Lawrence was hospitalized for four months, but he still managed to graduate with the Class of 2011. Asked how he accomplished that, he said the principal helped him and flashed a smile while admitting, "I don't even know."

Lawrence does know more than most ever will about the rigors of physical therapy.

He spends several hours a day, Monday through Friday, working with therapists at Neuroworks and Willis Clyde Physical Therapy.

What started with stretching and range of motion exercises has progressed into muscle-strengthening activities and, incredibly, standing and moving with assistance.

A few months after his accident, his body started getting sensation back — first in his legs, then in his arms. Now he can move both arms. He can't move his right hand yet, but he has enough mobility in his left hand to wiggle fingers and steer himself around in his electric wheelchair.

"I can move around pretty good," he said.

Asked what keeps him going, Lawrence didn't hesitate in his response: "The thought of just being able to walk again." And, he added while chuckling, "Hopefully getting out of the house away from Mom."

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