Athlete bounces back

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The small scar just below Dusty Atkinson's right knee is hardly noticeable these days.

It doesn't grab people's attention like the sound of bones snapping or the horrified expression on his teammates' faces after a gruesome scene that marred a Steamboat Springs High School boys soccer game against Battle Mountain in September.

The scar is a reminder of Sept. 23, a day that Atkinson, who is in his senior year, is hoping to replace with better memories before his graduation.

"I still remember everything right up to the time I got on the ambulance," Dusty said. "I had a clear shot to the goal. But my first touch was too far out."

With no clear possession, Dusty and Battle Mountain goalkeeper Muzy Gaziogla raced for the loose ball. Dusty planted his right foot and attempted to take a shot on goal before Gaziogla could stop it. The two players collided and Dusty's foot got trapped under the weight of the sliding goalkeeper.

"I knew it right away," Dusty said. "I was in terrible pain, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I didn't scream."

By the time an ambulance arrived at the soccer field, it was apparent that Dusty had broken his leg. At Yampa Valley Medical Center, an X-ray confirmed that his fibia and tibia had been shattered and that his high school soccer season was over. For Dusty, it also meant the end of his high school hockey career before his senior year had even started. He had played both sports since he was a young boy.

"I still remember the expression on his face when he looked at the X-rays of his leg at the hospital," said Richard Atkinson, Dusty's dad. "I think that's when it hit him that his senior season was over."

That night, a surgeon placed a titanium rod in Dusty's right leg, and his long journey to recovery began.

Now, slightly more than six months later, Dusty wants to make sure that the painful events of that day will not taint his final high school days.

"It's my senior year, and I don't want my final taste of high school sports to be me getting carted off of a soccer field in an ambulance," Dusty said.

After the injury, Dusty spent two weeks on a couch. This was more than enough time for him to catch up on television and realize he didn't want to be a couch potato.

As soon as he was able, he started going to physical therapy three times a week for 10 weeks to rebuild the muscle he had lost while he was on his back.

He tossed his crutches as soon as he could and started skating and playing indoor soccer in January.

"I was really out of shape," Dusty said. "I wanted to get back into shape, so I started playing soccer again and that's when I decided to run track."

Last weekend in Hotchkiss, Dusty ran track for the first time since eighth grade, making sure that the events of that September afternoon are not going to be his final as a Sailor.

He finished second in his heat in the 800-meter run at his first high school meet but was disqualified for not removing an earring before the race. Dusty said he was disappointed, but that he isn't going to let that mistake stop him.

"There is no way I'm going to forget that (to take the earring out) again," he said. "No way."

Dusty said he was affected more by the wind and cold in Hotchkiss than any lingering pain from his injury. He knows there is room for improvement this season and that he will get another shot before it ends.

"I'm still not 100 percent, but I'm getting stronger every week," he said. "I haven't set any goals for the season. This is my first year of track, so I didn't set my goal to go to state. That might be expecting a little too much."

The important thing for Dusty is that he is part of a team again and that he is competing at the high school level.

His recovery has been inspiring for his father, who is glad to see his son back in sports.

"That was a hard day for me," Richard said of the day his son was injured. "I knew when he didn't get up that there was nothing I could do for him. At that moment, all I could do was pray."

Richard said he has been amazed by his son's recovery and he couldn't be happier that Dusty is running track.

"He was always so good," Richard said. "I never heard him complain after he got hurt, and he has done everything in his power to get back to where he was before he broke his leg."

-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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