Like so many other high schoolers with big talent and even bigger dreams, Jacob Rainey was once bursting with potential.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder had played some quarterback as a sophomore in 2010, and 2011 was going to be his year to shine at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. But in a cruel twist of fate, Rainey suffered a freak injury to his right knee during practice last September. Keith O'Brien describes the scene from practice in an incredibly powerful story in the New York Times:
Teammates began to cry. At least one felt ill. [Woodbury athletic trainer Jeff Johnson] stayed at Rainey’s side. Knee dislocations are associated with severed arteries and blood loss, potentially life-threatening injuries, which the Raineys would soon learn. The popliteal artery in Jacob’s leg had been ruptured, cutting off circulation to his lower limb.
Doctors could not save Raney's leg, and amputation from the knee down became the only option.
After the surgery, Rainey's prosthetic leg made a return to football unlikely, so experts encouraged Rainey to look into training for the Paralymics. Rainey, however, remained set on the gridiron.
"It's just my mentality," Rainey told O'Brien. "When people tell me I can't do something, the stubbornness I have just pushes me forward."
Rainey began seeing physical therapist David Lawrence in March, and O'Brien writes that then "he wasn't even close to running."
"He was at a 70-year-old-amputee point," Lawrence said. "He could walk. He could put weight on his leg. But he was basically carrying the leg around."
After three months of physical therapy, Rainey began running outside. A few weeks later he threw his first pass in almost a year. Rainey eventually switched to a new prosthesis designed for athletes, and as he began to feel more comfortable, the quality of his throws increased significantly.
Rainey and his family are unsure if he'll ever play football again, but they realize that high school is his best chance. And that makes Rainey's hurdle that much higher: Not only is he competing against himself, he is competing against time.
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