Freshman endures life-threatening injury, offers encouragement
While many students participate in math clubs, soccer teams and art class after school, others prefer to test their stamina in the world of high powered machinery. Freshman Cooper Saelzler experienced the thrill and perils of dirt-biking.
In August 2018, the second day of his eighth grade year, Saelzler was involved in a dirt bike accident, causing him to miss more than half of the school year.
Earlier that summer, Saelzler learned to ride a Honda XR400R dirt bike. The bike was made in 2001 and had an Air cooled, four stroke, single cylinder, 397cc engine which has an output of 34 horsepower. This powers the bike up to a top speed of 71 mph.
The total curb weight of the Honda XR400R is 345.9 pounds, designed for off-road competitive riding. Saelzler practiced how to maneuver the bike’s clutch while also mastering how to control the machine in his backyard.
Saelzler had been riding for less than an hour on the day of the accident. On his second run, he let out the clutch while giving it throttle like he had done the past few runs, but he did not expect the jerk that occurred after.
This jolt caused him to lurch and as the bike flew out of control, Saelzler attempted to push through a small gap between the fence and solar panels. As a result, Saelzler’s leg smashed into one of the supports of a solar panel.
Saelzler was still clutching onto the machine after hitting the support beam, but the dirt bike was heading toward the fence. In that moment, Saelzler decided to fall off so he wouldn’t hit the fence. His leg was torn and had a chunk of flesh hanging off.
The wound was down to his bone, but he didn’t know that at the time. When Saelzler and the bike crashed, the header pipe fell on top of him and burned the wound and another part of his leg.
Saelzler’s dad Jason Saelzler ran over, picked him up and carried him to the car. Saelzler was confused as to why his dad was putting him in the vehicle. However, when they arrived at the hospital, Saelzler saw the doctors cleaning his wounds.
“It was a very unexpected moment in my life,” Saelzler said. “I predicted to crash but not to have it be life changing. Everything came so quickly and it was hard to believe it.”
The accident forced Saelzler to endure extreme pain over a span of four months. Considering himself an active individual, Saelzler had trouble accepting the sedentary lifestyle.
“Sitting on my couch was hard because I consider myself to be an active person,” Saelzler said. “To think I’m getting better and it gets worse because of an infection was hard. It was hard to keep hope but my parents supported me and my friends’ encouragement and love got me through it all.”
Saelzler went home from the hospital with over 100 stitches and his doctor requested that he sit in one place for the next week. The following week, his leg became infected which extended the recovery process.
“These things are unpredictable and can change your life,” Saelzler continued. “But I just believed in the Lord and I got through it. Now I’m back in sports doing basketball, so just keep believing.”
Saelzler had to sit on the same couch for the next four months. His daily routine included moving his feet for ten minutes every hour, a painful exercise for the recovering patient.
Saelzler also had to stand for ten minutes every 30 minutes which caused increased pain because of the sudden change of blood pressure. This injury keep him out of sports and P.E. for months, even after he came back to school.
After hearing about the accident, Saelzler’s friend and previous campus student Richard Williams, ’23, feared that Saelzler would never walk again and his sports career was over.
“I have known Cooper since the second grade but I didn’t become friends with him until fifth grade,” Williams said. “He played soccer and football and he loved to be as active as he could. I was scared for my friend. I thought he might never walk again.”
The injury also limited the middle schooler when venturing on the annual eighth grade trip to Calvin Crest. It prevented him from going on most of the educational hikes and activities.
In his free time Saelzler would play ping pong or cards because he was unable to get to many places on his crutches. Getting up to his cabin presented a challenge and he had to be driven there because the cabin was up a hill.
Saelzler also had to be very careful about the sun burning his wound. He consistently smothered the affected area in sunscreen and shaded it from direct sunlight. Despite these physical obstacles, Saelzler was encouraged by the support he received from friends, parents and his dog, Roscoe.
Saelzler drew motivation from Isaiah 41:10 which states, “So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” He continues to remind himself of this verse today.
The following video highlights Saelzler’s advice when encountering difficult situations in life.
Have you ever been involved in a life-threatening accident like Saelzler’s? Share your experiences and encouragement in the comments below!
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