ERIE -- A back injury robbed Erie's William Schell of his sophomore wrestling season and a promising opportunity to qualify for the state tournament. He made sure to come back full-force his junior year and make up for the time he can never get back.
Returning to the Tigers for the 2012-13 wrestling season, Schell tore through his junior schedule and finished the regular season with a 30-7 record. After taking third at 145 pounds during the Class 4A Region 2 tournament, Schell will enter the Pepsi Center Thursday among the top 16 wrestlers in his weight class at the state tournament.
"Sitting out for such a long time made me realize how short a time how have in this sport and how short your high school career is," Schell said. "Going to state is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I wanted to take full advantage of that and see what I can do."
Schell began seeing a chiropractor when he developed lower back problems while running the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes in spring of 2011 during track season. The pain worsened during the following summer track season and became unbearable during a July football camp. He had to pull out of football completely by the second practice of the season.
Schell saw an orthopedic surgeon, attended regular physical therapy and worked with an athletic trainer to promote flexibility and core strength but nothing seemed to help.
It wasn't until Oct. 14, 2011, that a bone scan of his lower back revealed a hot spot on Schell's L5 vertebra and he was diagnosed with Spondylolysis, a defect of the vertebra caused by a stress fracture of the bone. A CT scan later that month indicated a Pars Fracture in his L5 vertebra due to over-training and overuse in sports. Schell did not sustain any spinal chord or disc injury but since the lower lumber area of the spine supports most of the body's weight and movement, his injury was incredibly painful and would take time to heal.
Schell worked with local trainers, including Chad Parrish of No Limits in Longmont as well as Joel Raethe of the Colorado Mammoth, to build strength while keeping stress off his lower back. He missed his sophomore wrestling season but by track season in spring of 2012, we was healthy enough to run. Although he could not block start because of the strain on his back, he ran the third leg of the Tigers' 400- and 800-meter relay teams that set the school records and were named all conference.
But Schell never let go of the sophomore wrestling season that eluded him.
"Sitting out last year was pretty horrible," said Schell, who finished with a .500 record as a freshman. "Coming back took a lot of work. I started getting back into the sport and I appreciated it even more."
Schell said the worst part of sitting out with an injury was watching his teammates compete without him and reading about it in the paper. He said there was a time when he opened his mind to the possibility he may never wrestle again. But, he said, the support of his family, teammates and coaches gave him the confidence he needed to mount his comeback.
Returning to wrestling without back pain in June of 2012, Schell focused his mind on his goals and planted his feet on the mat. While framing and finishing homes five days a week during the summer, Schell said he would run two or three miles after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He would then wrestle with Mile High Wrestling Club and head coach Tom Clum for two hours.
During the fall, he trained with MATPAC Wrestling and coaches Monte and Milo Trusty on Tuesday and Thursday and Mile High on Sundays. Schell is now a captain along with Ladd Bunker and Brandon Wetsch.
"It was tough to see such a great athlete have to sit out for a year," Gratton said. "But for him to come back and train over the summer and throughout the year on his own, to take the extra effort to catch back up, that's all to do with him doing that himself. He put the extra effort in this year to be where he's at."
If he wins his first two matches at state, Schell likely would face Phil Downing, a two-time state champion from Broomfield, in the semifinals. He says he's in the perfect position to make a move or two and place in the top six.
Triplets with Anna and Kathryn Schell, who play for the Longmont High girls basketball team, William Schell comes from an athletic family. Particularly strong for his weight class, Gratton describes Schell as a "takedown machine" who is great on his feet and technical on top.
Gratton said he expected Schell, one of four Erie wrestlers competing at state this season, to qualify for state last year. This year, Gratton said Schell has more drive and desire than ever to be a state champion, whether that be this year or as a senior.
Schell's goals keep ratcheting up a notch.
A little more than a year ago, he simply wanted to get healthy enough and strong enough to wrestle without pain. Last weekend, he cleared his latest hurdle of qualifying for state. His new quest is to be standing on the podium come Saturday.
"After the state tournament, I plan on doing a lot more wrestling," Schell said. "I'll just keep wrestling over the summer, going to camps and practices. I just want to get as good as I can."
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