On­tario pitcher back up to speed at Canada Games

Teen spent two weeks in hospi­tal after three ver­te­brae frac­tured in car crash

Windsor Star - - SPORTS+CLASSIFIEDS - The Cana­dian Press

JUDY OWEN

WIN­NIPEG A year ago, Zack McQuaid was ly­ing im­mo­bi­lized in a hospi­tal bed, won­der­ing if he’d ever walk again.

The 17-year-old from Oshawa, Ont., had been in a head-on col­li­sion that frac­tured three ver­te­brae and broke his right hand in three places.

But a year and three days after the July 26, 2016 crash, McQuaid was on the mound as the start­ing pitcher for Team On­tario’s first base­ball game at the Canada Games.

“Since Day 1, it’s been my goal to come back for the sum­mer Games be­cause I knew it was a big year this year,” the right-han­der said Satur­day after throw­ing four score­less in­nings with four hits, eight strike­outs and no walks in On­tario’s 14-4 win over Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

“I was just happy to be throw­ing again, to be hon­est, after all that hap­pened. It healed a lot quicker than I thought it was go­ing to and doc­tors thought it was go­ing to, and I’m back per­form­ing bet­ter than ever.”

McQuaid was a pas­sen­ger in the front seat of a GM Ter­rain head­ing back from a friend’s cot­tage in the late morn­ing to play a ball game at home. The friend’s sis­ter was in the back and her grand­mother was driv­ing. It’s be­lieved the grand­mother may have had a stroke. Their ve­hi­cle swerved into the on­com­ing lane and smashed into a Dodge Ram on a road about 10 min­utes from Oshawa.

All three were wear­ing seat­belts. McQuaid said he got out of the ve­hi­cle and fell down.

“I re­mem­ber wak­ing up on the road, ev­ery­thing was white and my ears were ring­ing, and I could just hear peo­ple scream­ing, like car parts all over the road,” McQuaid said. “I didn’t know if I was go­ing to make it through or not.”

He was air­lifted to a Toronto trauma cen­tre and his par­ents rushed to see him after re­ceiv­ing a call.

“He was awake and talk­ing, so we felt hope­ful be­cause we hon­estly had no idea what we were walk­ing into,” said his mother, Heather, who’s in Win­nipeg for the games with hus­band John and their younger son and two daugh­ters.

They learned their old­est child had a burst frac­ture of the L5, but pieces of the shat­tered ver­te­bra hadn’t dam­aged his spinal cord. He also suf­fered less se­ri­ous frac­tures to the L4 and L3. His right hand was bro­ken in three places above his ring and mid­dle fin­gers and he had con­tu­sions to his left lung.

“About 80 per cent of peo­ple are par­a­lyzed with that type of in­jury,” his father said.

The teen spent al­most two weeks in hospi­tal. At home, he was ba­si­cally bedrid­den for the first few months and only walked a bit. His friend’s sis­ter also frac­tured a ver­te­bra. She and her grand­mother have re­cov­ered, John McQuaid said, adding he be­lieves the two peo­ple in the other ve­hi­cle also re­cov­ered from se­ri­ous in­juries.

Zack’s goal was to re­turn play­ing at or near the level he was be­fore the crash, when his fast­ball was clocked at 85 miles per hour. The big ques­tion was whether his back could with­stand the stress of force­ful ro­ta­tions.

He be­gan a weekly rou­tine of phys­io­ther­apy and chi­ro­prac­tic and mas­sage ap­point­ments. He started gen­tly toss­ing a ball last November and light pitch­ing fol­lowed in January. In May, he was back on the mound for a few in­nings at a time with the On­tario Yan­kees un­der-16 team.

A week be­fore the Canada Games, his fast­ball reg­is­tered 89 m.p.h.

“Th­ese num­bers com­ing out now, it’s crazy,” he said. “Like, it’s nuts to think about. I’m so happy where I am.”

McQuaid is head­ing into Grade 12 and said he hopes to get a schol­ar­ship to play base­ball at a Cana­dian or Amer­i­can univer­sity and maybe en­ter the Ma­jor League Base­ball draft in three years.

Team On­tario head coach Scott Robin­son, who was McQuaid’s Yan­kees coach and also his pitch­ing coach for the past two and a half years, said he’s in bet­ter shape be­cause of his strict prepa­ra­tions.

“Miracle’s a strong word, but the fact he’s on that mound is pretty spe­cial,” Robin­son said.

“We still treat him like he’s made of glass a lit­tle bit, but I’m really ex­cited to see where he’s at next win­ter when he’s really able to leave the ac­ci­dent be­hind him and get some work in.”

Zack McQuaid

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