SALT LAKE CITY — For many people, life-changing events can be paralyzing, stopping them in their tracks with no clear answer regarding what move to make next.
For Rowland Hall senior Hank Shipman, the car accident that altered his path — and literally left him paralyzed for a short time — opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. It has been a challenging but rewarding course for Shipman, who is being honored today by the Utah High School Activities Association with the Utah section of the prestigious Spirit of Sport award.
Shipman grew up skiing in the Colorado and Utah mountains. As a sophomore, he excelled as part of the Rowmark ski team and had a bright future in the sport.
That all changed in April 2011, when a driver crossed the double-yellow line on a narrow, two-lane highway and smashed into the Rowmark vehicle he was in as the team returned from a competition in Mount Hood, Ore.
Shipman suffered a compound femur fracture, broken vertebrae, a traumatic brain injury and a compressed spinal cord, which resulted in a loss of feeling throughout his body. Doctors told Shipman he probably would not walk again; they guaranteed he would not ski again.
“I’m glad you said that,” Shipman told those doctors, “because now I get to prove you wrong.”
As Deseret News sports reporter Amy Donaldson wrote nearly a year ago, Shipman is walking again. He is skiing recreationally, too. Shipman is also competing on the Rowland Hall baseball and golf teams, and continuing to excel in school. He has rechanneled his competitive drive into academics in order to achieve his goals of becoming a doctor and working in spinal rehabilitation.
“I sometimes feel so blessed in my recovery that I feel like I have to give back,” he said. “It was just such an unlikely chance.”
In addition to his academic and career goals, giving back has meant returning to Primary Children’s Medical Center or making phone calls to speak with families who are going through similar experiences.
“There was a girl who was in a car accident in Vermont, and she was horse racer,” Shipman said. “Someone we knew connected us and I’ve called her and given her advice. It’s rewarding for me and I like to do it.”
He makes those phone calls, he said, because he wants to help shine a light on a situation that is so dark.
“When I was in the hospital, the hospital staff would send people to visit me but everyone they sent was in a wheelchair,” he said. “They told me things like, ‘Accept that you’re going to be in a wheelchair the rest of your life and it gets a lot easier.’ That made me so angry, just livid. I love to go see these kids and show them that it’s possible to recover.”
Shipman’s resolve through his own recovery and his willingness to reach out to others is what led to the UHSAA selecting him as the 2013 Utah Spirit of Sport recipient, an honor he will officially receive in an assembly at his school today.
“It’s not about who scores the most points; it’s not about academics — we have plenty of awards for that,” UHSAA Assistant Director Kevin Dustin said of the nationwide honor, which is in just its fifth year of existence. “Spirit of Sport is when you look at someone and say, ‘That is exactly what sports should be about.’”
Nominations are submitted to the UHSAA by athletic directors, and the state winner is chosen by a UHSAA committee. The profile of each state recipient is sent to a regional competition, and then those winners are sent to the National Federation of High Schools, which selects the national Spirit of Sport winner.
“It’s a pretty cool honor. I’ve looked at some of the past winners from other states, and it puts me in the same category as some pretty cool stories,” Shipman said, noting that President Barack Obama presents the award to the national winner.
“I think the last year’s winner was a basketball player and got to play one-on-one with Obama,” he said. “Maybe I could play golf with him, or teach him to ski.”
Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org