Paralysis pushes accomplished athlete to fight for his team
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Curtis Markle, an accomplished Penn State Athlete majoring in engineering "believes he was destined to become paralyzed." Despite the enormous losses he has endured -- both physically and emotionally, Markle said he believes his accident has given him to ability to give more than ever before.
After dropping out of West Point University following his first year on the wrestling team; Markle moved home, began working at a tree company, became a father and a few short months later fell out of a tree at a party leaving him paralyzed.
“I wasn’t making the best decisions at the time,” said Markle who returned to his hometown and began working for a tree-company shortly after. “I was young, I was stupid and I decided to climb a tree.” Amidst a Halloween party, the twenty-four year old fell out of a tree and his life was changed forever. His broken ribs and collapsed lung would eventually heal, but Curtis Markle was paralyzed permanently, just six months after his daughter Anna was born.
Markle called the time after his accident very emotional, a time he spent much of crying. “I thought how am I going to take care of myself let alone be a father or provide anything that she would need I felt like I was going be a burden to everyone around me.”
Markle attributes much of his depression following the accident to having “no clue what was out there for people with disabilities” leaving him unaware of how “independent” he could become.
During his recovery Markle said he was lucky to meet individuals who pointed him in “the right direction” and taught him “that not only does life go on but that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.” One of these individuals was a Paralympic athlete who told him not to “sell yourself short, you can do anything.”
Markle took these words to heart, surrounded by ”great people,” the young man was out of rehab after three weeks. The average stay for a person with an injury of his kind and caliber is at a minimum six weeks.
Markle went on to receive two associate degrees in architectural engineering and mechanical drafting from a small technical college. During his time spent at the college Markle said “the best thing that could have happened to ‘him’ after his accident did, he was pulled back into sports.
Playing on the Universities seated basketball team Markle traveled the East coast, and even finished a marathon. Markle said that before he joined the team he felt as though something was missing. As he regained his independence, he regained his life through sports, the ability to compete, and the ability to relate and confide in his disabled teammates.
After graduation Markle began working at an engineering firm an hour away from his home. Markle who describes his family as “incredibly tight-knight” said it was too hard to be away from home, especially away from his daughter, who he currently has custody of every-other-weekend. Markle consequently quit his job and moved home.
Unable to find an engineering job in his small-town, Markle began working at his local Wal-Mart. Markle worked his way up in management until he became ill. A stage four ulcer in his hip left him bed-ridden for almost a year and a half, robbing him once again of his morale and independence.
During this time period, which Markle called “one of the most trying times” in his life, Markle met Teri Jordan the head Penn State’s ability Athletics. Ability Athletics provides physically disabled athletes with the opportunity to compete and has produced numerous Paralympians in its brief time of operation.
Penn State Ability Athlete’s, along with Teri Jordan who is also the head coach for the program’s track and field team, helped run an outreach program at the time which allowed members of the community to participate in adaptive athletics.
After Markle graduated from his technical college Jordan extended an invitation to Markle to play wheelchair basketball with the program, an opportunity Markle was exuberant about after his basketball career at his technical college was cut short when the team was disbanded due to lack of participants.
Markle said the outreach program allowed him to experience life, as “any athlete would want to.” Knowing he “was welcome there” and knowing he had the support of Teri Jordan and his team behind him, Jordan convinced Markle came back to school at Penn State.
Markle said that Teri Jordan helped him to “realize his self-worth” and further propelled him to want to create a “better life” for his daughter and himself by returning to school.
Sports gave him the confidence that he was equipped to succeed. The teams framework also gave Markle the support he needed to pull through his hardships stating “I think because we are disabled we have a special bond, not a lot of people deal with what we go through and it’s nice to have someone to help you out who has been in your shoes.” Markle said a day without his team “never feels quite right.”
The Program that initially gave Markle to opportunity to compete has since become an established club. Last year Markle became the President of the Adaptive Outreach program.
Markle said the “club provides people the ability to be able to compete and watching that person for the first time get in a wheelchair a basketball wheelchair or whatever it is and start to push and play and become part of a team it’s really rewarding knowing that you were part of that you helped somebody else… “ In addition to providing adaptive athletic experiences to the physically disabled, Adaptive Outreach also allows “able-bodied” participants, in an attempt to breakdown any stigma surrounding the physically disabled and provide others with insight into their daily struggles. “It’s almost like I’m giving back for the people who helped me when I was first injured so it’s really rewarding to see someone’s face just experience something for the first time” said Markle.
Markle, now a sophomore, is currently pursuing an engineering degree and recently qualified to compete nationally in seated shot put and discus but with academics and athletics aside Markle believes he has found his true calling“ I feel like I was meant to become paralyzed, as awful as that is to say, I feel like I was meant to become an advocate for people with disabilities.”
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