December 1, 2013, I woke up as the best 149lb NAIA wrestler in the country. In my mind one of the best wrestlers in the country period. A few weeks before that I showed the wrestling world watching how good I was by pinning Iowa States starting wrestler in our team dual against them at Hilton Coliseum! My wrestling mindset was created from the words “just fight” and “do more”! The season before I finished as the National Runner-up at 149lbs, so it being my senior year I wanted to win everything. Life up to that point seemed like a movie, then by 6 p.m. It turned into a tragedy. Instead of being at practice fighting my teammates. I was fighting for more life. My reality was being lived in a coma, severe brain trauma to both of my frontal lobes, serve internal bruising, a broken jaw in 2 places, hematoma, a fractured spine, severe concussion, bruised lungs and my family was informed I would not wake up out of my coma, so I was going to die.
While I was in a coma my family had to look at me, cry, talk to my body without receiving a response back, touch me to still feel the warmth of God allowing the blood to flow through my veins and Pray for the best outcome! With hope in the God we serve, they then had to listen to the doctors tell them I’d die and if I did live I’d face life in a vegetative state. This was crushing news to everyone there or paying attention to my condition, my brother told me that he would talk to me and I’d squeeze his hand while I was in a coma to let him know I could hear him. It kept his hope in God’s plan for me to not leave this world yet. Fighting with the doctors at times about my condition and signs of life, my brother stood firm in his faith believing I was with God himself and God was telling me what I’m suppose to do when he wakes me back! Do I remember God telling me anything in a coma? No I do not, but I’ve had a feeling in my heart and strength from the depths of my soul God giving me the direction and the path to take in my mission. I was a firm believer before the accident. Raised in the church and in a Christian home I believed in God and miracles. I just now believe God called me deeper! Not suppose to wake up fourteen days go by. My mother who was there from the moment she heard the news never left. She stopped the doctors from putting trach tubes in my throat, claiming that I was a singer and God will raise me from that bed like he raised Lazarus from the dead! She stopped them from sending me to a nursing home since I still showed signs of life, claiming I was going to walk out of that hospital with her. Fourteen days later when she woke up from the few hours of rest she’d get from just being in the room with me, watching me just breathe and look peaceful, I was still asleep but the machines were still helping me breathe without yet hearing a flat line it let her know God was still going to show everyone watching who is in control! Later that day I woke up, my eyes opened and without talking I just stared as if I didn’t know anyone or what was going on my mother told me. I could not walk or talk but I was alive and breathing on my own. My new prognosis was I’d be a vegetable for the remainder of my days, I’d face life at the mental stage of a four-year-old. I was told that I was lucky to be alive, but I’d never wrestle or go to school again.
Faith in God, hard work, and believing in myself allowed me to create a disturbance in the suffering. When man said “He won’t live” God said “Get up from your coma”. Then over the next 10 days what God did was more than enough but he kept going. Man said “He won’t ever walk or talk again” God said “Walk and Talk”, man said “He will have a four year old mindset” God said “Function good enough to leave the Hospital”. Then after 24 days of being in the hospital I was able go to my hometown under the care of my mother the day before Christmas. One thing is for sure and that’s God used me in the lives of those paying close to my physical condition what man says the power of God overrides.
The Road To Recovery
Although my physical condition drastically improved the news I went back home with was heavy on my heart, I still would never attend school again or wrestle. Facing a reality of the doctors telling me horrible news, my family was scared for my life. They treated me like an infant because they didn’t want me to get hurt in any way. I had to do something no one expected so I trusted God with my all!
Three weeks later I began therapy to develop basic natural skills that I’ve already learned but muscle memory is the blessing that we as humans take for granted. Four months later God cleared me to live on my own again and move back to my college town to attempt school. Still not cleared to wrestle yet but everything that God had done for me up to that point was all the hope I needed to see. People tell you a lot of things you can’t do, I looked back at my life and remembered a lot of things people told me I couldn’t do, yet I found a way!
Weeks away from my doctor appointment to get cleared, I pushed myself to new limits creating a fighting chance for myself and after I left my doctor appointment every prediction I heard became just that – a prediction! Which we all know predictions can be wrong and these ones were, thank God. In less than months I had gone from a man with a four-year old child’s mental capacity to a 23 year old. Remember I spoke earlier on muscle memory being a blessing now being cleared to wrestle I began to do what I love, the hard part which brought tears of self doubt at times came from me forgetting everything I’ve learned since the sixth grade when I started wrestling. The clock has started I had a semester left of school and eight months to relearn the sport of wrestling at a College level so I could be able to compete in a live wrestling match for my team.
I had humbling experiences over the first few months, they came from being a stud before the accident, to being the guy in the room who just looks like he is there to try wrestling out. Many times self-doubt would creep in, but to me, that was just the devil telling me I’d fail. So, I kept getting back up every time I’d fall. After eight months of two workouts a day, my last semester of college was approaching and my first live match since before the accident.
Ready To Wrestle
December 20th, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada I weighed in at 157lbs. Ready or not, my time was upon me. The build up was a little nerve wrecking but I had a smile on my face because all I had been through – whether I won or lost this match – would still be enough to show people the power of God. Two feet from each other, with my foot on the line, shoes taped, singlet-straps up, headgear strapped, mouthpiece in my mouth, prayers of protection and request sent.
I waited in anticipation for the referee to sound his whistle for the match to begin, the match started and I struck first with a take down but by the end of the first period I was losing, caught on my back seconds away from giving up a pin I had a defining moment. Two things went through my head during these moments of fight; lay here, get pinned, and show everyone I still made a comeback; or get up off my back, fight my way back in this match and win it for my comeback match.
Down five points and time ticking away I was a little stressed but that didn’t stop the fight, I kept fighting – looked up and tied the match. A minute remaining in the match and just as bad as I didn’t want to lose neither does he, I shoot a low single, picked his leg up and finished the takedown for a two-point lead. Once I had a minute of riding time secured I cut him and finished the match on my feet.
The whistle blew and I instantly dropped to my knees with so much thanks to give for my revelation of keeping the faith and prevailing when God is your only option. Mankind said no way not possible to what I would be able to accomplish but God said yes!
Four months after that victory I danced across my college Graduation stage with a smile on my face from ear to ear. Over the next year I was a paraprofessional for a high school working with students who are autistic and special needs, I also coached their Jr. High wrestling team and motivated a group of guys through my words and actions to refer to themselves as “Tatum Strong.”
Romans 2:11 For God does not show favoritism.
No matter where you are right now, how great can you still be?
Where I’m at now is pursuing to be as great as I can be. I’m wrestling again chasing the Olympic dream, I’m in my second year of grad school earning a masters degree in counseling, I’m a substitute teacher for the Jefferson County school system, and I’m a counselor at Denver Rescue Mission. I’m still doing more so I can keep on fighting!!!