Athlete tackles life after amputation
For 10-year-old Jeremy Klingbeil, falling down during a recent kickball game was a source of pride.
He slipped on some mud while running for a ball. So he got back up and threw the ball to his teammates.
It may not seem like much, but it was pretty impressive for a kid who just five months earlier had his right leg amputated below the knee.
“I’ve been running pretty fast,” said Jeremy, who lives in Spotsylvania County and received his first prosthetic in October from Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia.
“In the first month of school, I fell and everybody was freaking out, and I needed the teacher and everything,” Jeremy continued. “But now I fall all the time outside, and nobody even cares.”
And that’s the way he likes it. As his dad, Rick Klingbeil, said, “That’s healing.”
Jeremy’s dad doesn’t go into detail about the incident that caused his son’s injury.
He says Jeremy was mowing a lawn with his older brother in July and had a bad accident. His foot was mangled.
The Klingbeils had a family meeting after consulting with doctors. They decided that an amputation would be best.
“He was part of the decision-making,” dad said of his son.
Shortly after Jeremy was released from the hospital, his dad received an introductory call from his son’s football coach. Jeremy had signed up to play before the accident, and practice would be starting soon.
“I said, ‘Well ’ then I told him the story,” Klingbeil said.
The coach was floored.
Klingbeil told him that Jeremy would still like to be part of the team, even though he wouldn’t be able to play. The coach said to bring him out, Klingbeil recalled.
“What happened with football, that was a godsend,” he said.
Jeremy attended games and practices unless he had doctor appointments. The players and coaches made him feel like part of their Redskins team—not the one-legged kid on the sidelines.
He was named co-captain, and the team bought T–shirts that said “We play with 12,” referring to Jeremy’s number and all 12 players.
The Redskins went undefeated in a season dedicated to Jeremy.
In fact, Jeremy was at Shriners to be fitted with his first prosthetic when he heard that his team had won the final game of the season.
During a recent interview he called it the world championship game, then smiled and corrected himself: “Well, not the world.”
Jeremy proudly points out that only a few teams even scored against the Redskins.
Rick Klingbeil marvels at all of the community support.
A fundraiser for the family brought out hundreds to Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina. People waited for an hour for a burrito, Klingbeil recalls.
“God has put so many people in front of me, it blows my mind,” he said. He calls those people angels.
One of the angels was Jeremy’s nurse at VCU Medical Center.
“He was just ” Klingbeil said before Jeremy interjected: “awesome.”
They didn’t have to search for information when making a decision about Jeremy’s amputation. The nurse brought doctors to them.
Then came other angels.
Like Jeremy’s football coaches, including a combat-wounded assistant coach who took the youngster under his wing.
Like Jeremy’s physical therapist, whom Jeremy would tease about his favorite football team’s losing record.
Like Jacob Rainey, a star football player for a boarding school near Charlottesville who had his right leg amputated last year after suffering an injury during a game. Jeremy got to meet Rainey and watch him play.
There were also Jeremy’s fellow Boy Scouts, who bought him a Kindle. In fact, a Scouting friend whose daughter is an amputee referred the family to Shriners, which covers expenses that insurance doesn’t.
And Rick Klingbeil just happened to meet an amputee who was browsing the Fredericksburg art studio where he works. Turns out the guy makes prosthetics, and he gave the family his number if they need any help.
Not that everything has been easy.
Jeremy, a fifth-grader at Wilderness Elementary School, used crutches during the first couple of weeks of school, then started bringing his wheelchair. He remembers falling off the monkey bars during recess, and his teacher putting him back into his wheelchair.
Jeremy also remembers the first time he tried to walk with a prosthetic. It was hard, and he said he cried.
“I really got stressed.”
His dad told him it would get easier, but Jeremy didn’t believe him.
More than a month ago, Jeremy told The Free Lance–Star that he used to run all the time and bounce on a trampoline in his backyard. Those things were really hard now, he said at the time.
But last week he talked about playing two-hand touch football during recess. He said he successfully landed a front flip on his trampoline and is working on the back flip.
“He’s at now where I was hoping he’d be in a year,” Rick Klingbeil said. “I think he surprises himself sometimes.”
He plans to play flag football this spring, then Parks and Recreation football in the fall. And he wants to play in middle school, high school and college.
“I want to be on the Redskins team,” Jeremy said.
“All it takes is hard work, a little bit of talent,” his dad responded. “You can do whatever you want.”
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402