About midway through the 2014 boys swimming season, Andriy Usyk was involved in a car wreck that would nearly cost him an arm.
“Come back. That’s the only thing I could think is come back,” said Usyk, now a junior at Smith-Cotton High School. He was on his way to swim practice with two of his teammates, Tyler Spear and Jack Benton, when Spear lost control of the car and sent the boys rolling off the road.
“All I remember is the airbag deploying and then it went black,” Benton said. “When I woke up, I was on the ceiling; Spear, his head was hanging out the window. Andriy was just sitting in the back, dangling.”
After emergency responders arrived and assessed the crash, Spear and Benton walked away with minor injuries, but Usyk’s right arm was seriously injured.
“When I woke up (after the crash) … I was trying to move stuff, then I looked at my arm and it was horrible. I thought my arm got ripped off,” Usyk said.
After a two-minute ambulance ride, a helicopter flight to Kansas City and a considerable amount of blood loss, Usyk was finally in Children’s Mercy Hospital awaiting his mother, Larysa, and sister, Valentyna. When she was notified about the crash, Larysa made a four-hour trip from her place of work in Jefferson City to Sedalia to get Valentyna, then on to Kansas City. Larysa said she was in complete shock once she heard what was going on, and was informed that Andriy had a “cut” on his arm.
“Later on when I saw him, I found out that his arm was completely demolished. The doctors were in shock that Andriy still had his arm. It was hanging on by a few hairs,” Larysa said.
After his operations, all Usyk could think about while hospitalized, as well as the first few months of his recovery, was to come back to swimming. Swimming has always been one of his passions and taking time away from it really bothered him. Coming back to swimming was a hard road at first.
“I came back the first day, horrible,” Usyk said. “I had no pain medicine to take. I basically had to reteach myself swimming and a lot of it was swimming through the pain.”
With six months of therapy coupled with swimming on his own in practice, he started to see improvements in the mobility and use of his arm. Excited to get back into competition after just an off-season of recovery time, Usyk not only returned but improved on all of his times from the previous year.
“He’s got a lot of heart,” said S-C swimming head coach Jerry Tankersley. “He’s the kind of kid you want out (for swimming).”
It could have been easy to look at Usyk’s situation and think he couldn’t come back or maybe that he was going to stop, but his personality and drive said otherwise.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Larysa said. “I never doubted his ability to come back. He has always had this drive in him to do great things and to prove to people who told him that he can’t do something, that he can do it.”
Benton said doctors told Usyk that he would not be able to swim competitively again.
“He completely doubted their odds, he was real determined,” Benton said. “When he came back and went as hard as he did, it really pushed everyone else to step up.”
Rebounding from his injury, Usyk feels more confident and driven than ever. His end goal for his upcoming senior year is to qualify for the state meet. Usyk will compete in sprints and mid-distance races. In preparation for next year, he looks to start hitting the gym more to help regain lost muscle mass from the accident. Over the summer, he also will swim for the Sedalia Bandits, coached by Tankersley and other swimmers’ parents.
“The accident basically gave me motivation to go hard and go try,” Usyk said. “You know, before I took it for granted and slacked off a little but now I feel more motivated than ever.”
Eli Kemp is a senior at Smith-Cotton High School.