by Peter Jakey-Managing Editor
It has not been that long since Alex Fullerton, 20, was winning wrestling matches at the annual Dick Dunn Memorial Tournament. He was one of the best wrestlers to ever don a singlet for Onaway High School.
Since graduating, he has been attending Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) and returning to the tournament as an official.
Alex’s life changed dramatically last June when he was involved in an accident on a mid-Michigan freeway.
He drove a motorcycle on the ramp merging northbound Interstate 75 and westbound U.S.-10 and collided with a double bottom tractor-trailer. Alex suffered injuries that resulted in the loss of his left leg from the knee down.
“I hit a pot hole and was thrown up into the side of the truck,” said Alex. “It was a gravel train and I think one of the rotating tires on the side caught my leg, chewed it up, and spit me out.” He was conscious the entire time.
“I stood up and was mad. I was embarrassed a little bit,” said Alex. “I said ‘my dad is going to kill me.’ Then, I went to walk back to my bike and I looked down and my leg was hanging there. I said, ‘oof, that’s probably not good.’ ” He received help from people at the scene until an ambulance arrived.
Alex recovered and was fitted with a prosthetic lower leg. He returned to school last fall, and last Saturday, returned to the mats in Onaway to continue officiate matches.
Life has gone on with no regrets.
Alex was left with the decision to keep the leg. It would require several surgeries and the transplanting of muscles from other parts of his body. He was not going to have any function in the ankle and little in the left knee. The procedures would have no guarantees from doctors, who said there was still the possibility it would have to be removed; however, it would have been above the knee. “Having my knee is huge,” said Alex. “People with their biological knees walk significantly better.”
Alex told them to take it. “I did not even need to think about it,” said Alex. “After the doctor was done talking, I told them, yeah, cut it off, I don’t want it anymore.”
Other than a limp, it is difficult to tell the difference between the legs.
His mother Amy watched closely Saturday from the stands to see how he would do in a live match. He already had worked other wrestling tournaments, but this was the first time she saw him officiate.
“I was looking to see how agile he was,” said Amy, “If he was able to get around and not get run over by the wrestlers.” There were no close calls. “His attitude is great, his perspective on life is great,” Amy added.
Alex says, other than his morning routine of putting on the prosthetic, it has not slowed him.
It helps that prosthetics have improved greatly, not only in the 21st Century, but even in the last few years.
Newer prosthetics have advanced plastics and carbon-fiber composites that make the limb lighter and stronger.
“The limb pumps air and holds it on with a vacuum,” said Alex. “It creates suction with contact.
“This is just my first one. I’ll get a leg for water skiing. I’ll get a leg for running. I went snowboarding the other day at Nub’s Nob. I wasn’t able to do it, because as my leg would twist it would poke into my knee. I could not do it very well. Eventually, they will make me a leg for snowboarding, and I’ll be able to snowboard.”
The junior will still be able to drive the race car with the SVSU Cardinal Formula Racing Team. “The only stipulations are that I have to be able to stop it and I have to be able to get out in five seconds. I have done both of those things.”
Onaway High School athletic director Marty Mix said Alex is a great example for others that “when you are slapped in the face with adversity how you step right up and beat it. Alex has done that throughout his life.”
Mark Grant’s wrestling program lives by the mantra that “you don’t quit, you don’t make excuses, you find a way to rise to the top and that’s what Alex has done.”