When we walked into the Westlake offices of Orthopedic Associates yesterday, there was a football player and his parents in front of us. Ryan smiled and nodded to the kid and said, "Hey."
"What's up?" he said, nodding back.
As Ryan explained to me after we checked in, he was the freshmen QB for Fairview who also broke his collarbone at about the same time as Ryan. He knows this because Bay played Fairview last week and the two injured QBs had the chance to chat at games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They shared their mutual frustration at missing their first high school season.
It's been eight weeks since Ryan broke his collarbone. Back in August, this was the week we envisioned him coming back. But time and healing changes your perspective somewhat and we went into this appointment knowing that it was unlikely he would get clearance to return to play.
Ryan was OK with that. We talked a lot about how he plays with an intensity that could put himself at greater risk of re-fracturing. Although it's not his throwing arm, we worried about him running with the ball because he lowers his left shoulder when delivering a pop (he has a tendency to run through people instead of around them, a remnant of his early years of playing fullback).
With basketball season approaching, we just couldn't risk him losing another season. Ryan is a competitor and he needs to have a healthy, constructive outlet for that competitiveness. I certainly can't have him coming home after school all winter and torturing his younger brothers because he's pissed he can't play.
The doctor praised him for his mature decision and then showed us the progression of x-rays to see how he's healing. Since the fracture was so severe, the bones are not joined end to end, but instead overlap with new bone forming all around the break. The latest x-ray showed a good amount of new bone healing the injury. It looks good, but not good enough to take the contact of football.
He got the clearance to attend open gyms and prepare for basketball. He continues his lifting/rehab program in the weight room and he cheers his teammates from the sideline.
But that didn't make coming home after the freshmen game last night any easier. "This is the game I was supposed to come back," he said. "I can't believe I'm missing the whole season."
Neither can we, but we know it's for the best.
While this has been a life lesson for Ryan, it has also been a good one for Danny and I as well. Football isn't everything, we certainly know that, but it means so much to him and he works so hard at it. There's really no way you can effectively play the game unless you are committed 110 percent. It requires so much of players and takes even more from them.
We cheer for the team with great enthusiasm, but it isn't the same. I watch him from the stands as he carries footballs under each arm like a security blanket. I watch his mood shift from elation to frustration and back again. He pats teammates on the shoulder, fills water bottles and high-fives players when they've made a great play. He paces the sideline and in his restlessness I know he would give his left kidney to be out on that field. Sometimes I think I can will him recovered.
But I can't.
It's hard to be helpless, but we're trying to keep it all in perspective. It's only football. He's otherwise healthy, doing well in school, has good friends and is a good kid.
Last night, Danny finally put words to what I've been feeling, "I just miss watching him play." Me, too.