Ryan Long, Deseret Morning News
Kade Fullmer lost his hand in a freak accident, but he still plans to go on a mission and return to the field when he gets back.

Sometimes it's surprising the way life disguises blessings.

A year ago Kade Fullmer was a promising young football player at Dixie State. Eleven months ago, he became the victim of a freak accident. Today, he is again a football player with a lot of potential, but one who's decided to put that dream on hold so he can serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"It's a working goal," he said of his efforts to change his life so church officials will allow him to serve a mission. "I never went to church down at school. I kind of fell back into things after the accident. My family has always been active, and I wanted to go (on a mission) . . . this just kind of sped things up."

Fullmer's right hand was severed when it became tangled in a rope that was pulling the tube he was riding. The rope wrapped around his wrist and began to pull him forward.

"I went about five or 10 feet forward and then I felt a pop," he said. "When the pain hit it was almost unbearable."

And after that subsided, and his arm healed, it was the pain of trying to deal with the loss of his hand.

"It's a mental rehab with the hand," said Fullmer now 20 years old. "When I hurt my knee it was more physical rehab. There are some similarities, but with the hand it was a lot about not being so timid about using it."

Fullmer's primary goal right after the accident was to get back on the football field. He had to watch from the sidelines as the Rebels played for but lost the Junior College National Title on Dec. 6, 2003. He might have been down, but he was far from out. After all, he'd made comebacks before.

When he was a senior, he was honored as a first-team all-state player, but instead of accepting his award, he was recovering from his third knee surgery. He planned to go to school at Idaho State, but his ACT scores weren't high enough. So he walked on at Dixie and earned a tuition scholarship. He said at the time he didn't doubt he'd be playing football this fall, and nor did his coaches or family.

"They know because of my history," he said right after the accident. "They believe in me."

Fullmer went back to school in January and played football in the spring. The linebacker said his coaches and teammates couldn't have been more supportive as he learned a lot of things over again.

"It was tough, but it was a good experience," he said. "Tackling and stuff, you really want to grab onto them . . . Some things slowed me down a bit, but things got better and better for me."

It helped that the team practiced in full pads in the spring. That allowed Fullmer to really figure out how to be a linebacker without his dominant hand. He said he experienced only positive responses from those around him as made his comeback.

"If they had (negative thoughts), they kept them to themselves," he said. "It was awesome. My coaches and teammates, they were great."

It was actually easier to re-learn football than it was to live life without his hand.

"Rehab was pretty easy," he said. "It was just different to get used to learning new things everyday that you've already done. Learning to write with my left hand, brushing my teeth, hanging onto something, opening gates."

In learning news ways of tackling old chores, he also overcame his self-consciousness about having no hand or using the prosthesis. He took a job landscaping with his brother and bought a motorcycle. He is not just comfortable, he's happy.

"I don't worry about it now," he said grinning and waving his right arm in the air. "It feels like I've had this my whole life. It's kind of crazy. This year has been so long. It started to hit me that it will be a year on Oct. 20, but it feels a lot longer than that. I'm used to not having it."

In growing accustomed to living without his right hand, he's grown more comfortable with life off the football field, too. So the game that's been center stage in his life for so long now takes a back seat to religion.

"After you lose a hand, you kind of look at things a little different," he said with a smile. "I'm still taking classes at Salt Lake Community College so I can get my associate degree."

He plans to pick up where he left off with football after serving a two-year mission. He said Dixie's coaches have been supportive of other players who've opted for a mission during their athletic careers, and he hopes to be another one of those return-missionary success stories.

Instead of studying football playbooks, he's taking the chance life has offered him to study his own heart.

"I've learned a lot about myself, but I think I have a lot more to learn," Fullmer said.

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