IT ALL SEEMS to have started with a tornado, you see. George Curtis, then two years old, was standing on the front porch of his Kansas City home when the winds from an approaching tornado picked him up some 10 feet in the air - just out of his father's reach - and then dumped him in a pile of bricks, leaving him with a broken nose and torn fa cial muscles.
Since then, poor George has been kicked, shot, punched, beat, stampeded, broken, stabbed, knocked unconscious. Concussions, broken bones, separations, torn ligaments, you name it, he's probably had it. The Army wouldn't even have him, never mind that a war going on. Curtis was damaged goods. He's got a nose that's blocked more blows than Rocky Balboa's. He has a knee that looks like a railroad station.It only figured that Curtis would some day undertake an occupation in which he could take care of the wounded. After all, he'd had lots of practice. He became an athletic trainer and eventually became the head trainer at BYU, where he almost certainly has won the trust of his patients. When BYU athletes take an injury to Curtis, chances are he's not only seen it before, he's HAD it.
Curtis has had just about every injury you can imagine and some that you can't, which is why he's undergone major surgery an average of about once every 24 months during his 41 years.
If there's a wrong place to be, Curtis will find it. Last March, standing on the sidelines at the BYU spring game, he was run over by a player, leaving him with a cracked tibia and another stint on crutches. That is the third time he has been run over on the sidelines, except the earlier incidents resulted in a concussion and broken nose. But charging football players are nothing. Curtis was run over by a stampede of cattle while wrangling at a ranch one summer and wound up with a four-inch piece of fence in his leg that took two months to find its way out.
Sometimes even the best of intentions go awry. Once Curtis spotted a fellow weightlifter lose his balance and, just in time, rushed over to save him from being crushed by the barbell - only to break his back in two places.
Aside from getting slam-dunked by a tornado, there have been other fluke accidents - like the time he shot a street sign and the sign shot him back (he still carries the bullet in his gut); and there have been just plain dumb accidents - like when he played catcher without a mask and caught the ball with his schnozz. This is not to mention the bad falls from a balcony and down a flight of stairs. And then there was the day Curtis took a front row seat at aneighborhood gang fight only to be dragged into the fracas himself. Next thing George didn't know, he was being knocked unconscious with a pipe and his ribs andnose were broken.
Ah, that abused nose. Curtis once walked into a roundhouse right hand in the finals of a Golden Gloves tournament that left his nose pointing to the starboard side of his face.
At last count Curtis had had 20 major surgeries (this was as of late last week, so there's no telling what's happened in the meantime) - two on the left shoulder, one on the back, 13 on his right knee, two on his left knee, one on his nose and the standard, if not welcome, tonsillectomy.
All told, beginning with the head and working down, Curtis has had five broken noses, six concussions, one broken cheekbone, several cracked teeth, one broken collarbone, several broken ribs and separated shoulders, one ruined rotator cuff, a cracked sternum, two broken backs, one broken hand, four serious knee injuries - and most of the injuries occurred one at a time, many the result of a prolonged athletic career.
Curtis was a school boy football star in his native Kansas City until somebody bent his knee sideways in a pileup. He tried to join the Army, but he flunked the physical. Eventually he landed at Snow College and later Southern Utah State, where, despite a chronically injured knee, he continued to wrestle, box, play football and throw the shot put. He aspired to become either a Baptist minister or a veterinarian, but became a trainer instead, inspired by the treatment of his own injuries.
"I wish I had had someone to hold me back when I was hurt in sports," he says. "I don't think my injuries were handled right. Now with these (BYU) kids, when they're hurt, if I have anything to do with it, they won't play. They say, `But, hey, I can play,' but I'm going to have to face them in 20 years and tell them I did everything I could for them. I care about these kids."
If Curtis' injuries forged dedication they have also bred toughness. He has never missed a day of work, despite all the hospital stays, and he has consciously avoided the pitfalls of painkillers. He refuses to take drugs after the first day following surgery. He prefers to block the pain through meditation. But the pain comes and goes, and some parts of his body are worn beyond his years. When one team physician looked at an X-ray of Curtis' right knee - a knee that was once a featured topic at a medical convention - he was flabbergasted. "This is the knee of an 85-year-old man," he said.
"Maybe this was meant to be so I could help others," says Curtis of his injuries. In the meantime, he remains, ironically, a trainer's nightmare. At the moment he has walking pneumonia, and the right knee needs another tuneup, and the back needs more surgery and . . . .