SACRAMENTO — It’s an insult to the courage of William Barker III to revisit with him the night of Oct. 23, 2009.
The 19-year-old Sacramento man is focused only on the future.
Barker, as Davis High football fans will recall, was paralyzed while blocking on a kick return for Valley High.
The score that evening no longer matters (the Blue Devils won handily). Courtney Williams’ school-record five DHS touchdowns that night became a footnote.
The scary fact is Barker broke his neck in two places on the third-quarter play, almost died and was given a dire prognosis after losing use of his arms and legs.
Three years later, Will Barker is a student at Sacramento City College. He’s typing, texting and throwing touchdown passes to Randy Moss on his Madden football video game.
Barker, who was an emerging basketball star, is working with doctors and Sacramento State students as he learns to walk again.
As far as Barker is concerned this holiday season, life is pretty good …
“I’ve been blessed. God has seen fit to help bring me back … and I’m doing better every day,” Barker said while taking a break from a recent therapy session. “(Thanks to) my parents, the support never stops. They help me keep my head pointed in the right direction; urge me to live life to the fullest — which I do.”
Barker almost didn’t survive his injury. His Valley football coach Preston Jackson, a former UC Davis player, is credited with saving his life — along with on-site paramedics.
Once stabilized at the UCD Medical Center, Barker began his journey back.
He’s improved enough to graduate with his class, slowly regaining limited function in his arms and hands.
Working and rehabilitating with Sacramento State physical-therapy master’s degree students — under the supervision of Drs. Katrin Mattern-Baxter and Michael McKeough — Barker has been learning to walk again.
Nothing short of a miracle.
“He’s incredibly mature for a 19-year-old. Of course he’s had to go through a lot,” Davis resident Mattern-Baxter told The Enterprise. “He’s very, very determined. Nothing is too much for him.
“He is always after (our students) to push him harder …”
Barker and graduate physical therapist Kylee Keck each laugh when they talk about how much is enough.
“His motivation is ‘I’ll do it again, I’ll do it again,’ ” Keck says. “He never wants to quit, so we wind up saying ‘OK, we’re tired now and we have to call it quits on the treadmill.’ ”
Barker, his infectious smile even wider, says he’s ready to move forward, “24/7.”
“Yeah, I push (my friends and PT assistants) a little,” Barker admits. “They tell me I wear them out as much as they do me.”
Barker uses a wheelchair and gets assistance from family, friends and caregivers for transportation to and from class, workouts or therapy sessions.
But the determined teen has been known to get on with it without help from others. Periodically, he’s off in his chair to hit a nearby fitness gym. It’s a trip that can take up to one hour if unassisted.
But Barker doesn’t care. He’s got work to do — and any missed opportunities to work out mean it will be that much longer before he’s walking again.
“The rehabilitation is working very, very good,” Mattern-Baxter reports. “Will has shown measurable progress. He’s an athlete — and that has helped.”
In the Sacramento State program, Barker has just finished an eight-week stay in which class members have worked with their prized student in treadmill walking exercises.
Barker is able to pull himself up into a convoluted harness that holds him in an upright position.
Meanwhile, his PT partners manipulate his feet and legs into walking patterns as the treadmill moves slowly. Barker is learning to walk all over again — this time without much help from his unresponsive limbs.
Barker swears he’ll be walking again. Doctors and physical therapists won’t argue with him.
In the McKeough and Mattern-Baxter class, each student is assigned to a patient for rehabilitation. The two professors supervise the treatments, hoping they benefit the patients and bring them nearer full recovery.
“We’re serving the greater public (with) patients who require the treatment, but can’t get it any place else.”
However, thanks to Mattern-Baxter, Sacramento State professionals may get to continue their two-way revelation with Barker.
Mattern-Baxter is writing a case study that, should her supervisors agree, will lead to expanded work with Barker.
In the past eight weeks, class members have done a home assessment for Barker. They have added a pull-up rail and bench for weightlifting in his home.
Attending Sacramento City College with a study emphasis on computers and animation, Barker also is learning about sports medicine.
Recently, Barker was invited as a panelist to talk with Hornet students about “Life After Spinal Cord Injury.” Mattern-Baxter said Barker was excellent as a teacher for a day, too, explaining to 25 master’s degree hopefuls the best ways to transfer patients like himself from one environment to another.
“He is a very, very determined young man,” Mattern-Baxter concluded. “Nothing is too much for him. He’s just a compassionate, big-hearted guy.”
Baxter credits older siblings Derrick and Deana and younger brother Amin for being there “when I need them” and loves playing Madden 2012 with Amin. His favorite player this season? “Randy Moss. I’m a big 49ers fan.”
Baxter sent a big thank you to Davis High community members for their support during the early days of his ordeal. Four seasons ago, dozens of local residents worked through Debi and John Flory — parents of Blue Devil player Gabe Flory — to raise funds, provide meals and work to get necessary supplies that would make life easier on the Barkers.
“I never got a chance to show my appreciation (for what Davis people) meant to me,” Barker said. “I want them to know I am working hard, going to the gym seven days a week. I’m getting back.”
Barker asked about how ex-DHS running back Williams is doing (a rising star for Aggie football) and said, “I would love to be in contact with some of the people from Davis, especially all those who helped me.
“I don’t really need much. I’ve been blessed to have so much, really. But I’d be glad to talk about anything … or just to show my appreciation. I really appreciate all that (Davis) folks have done for me.”
Notes: Barker’s email is [email protected]. … ”He’s been the best teacher we’ve ever had. We’ve learned so much from working with Will. He’s been a real inspiration is us,” PT master’s candidate and Barker helper Chris Bartkowski explained. … From the It’s a Two-Way Street Dept.: “(This staff) gets you to work and they teach you stuff,” Barker said, returning the compliment. “Standing, transferring, they really help me out. I can’t say enough about Sacramento State.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.