'I'm blessed': Injured kicker Bonani visits USF, talks about fall, recovery
Injured USF kicker Maikon Bonani made his first visit to football practice Wednesday and talked for the first time about his frightening 35-foot fall while working at Busch Gardens, when he might be able to return to football and how he'll support his teammates this season.
"I'm blessed," said Bonani, wearing a white USF brace around his torso that he said he'll have to wear for about three months. "Since I got to the hospital, the doctors said I was very fortunate, and I believed them right away. It is a pretty long fall. Only to have a broken bone, it's pretty amazing."
Bonani, wearing a green T-shirt and a black pair of USF shorts with his No. 28 on them, is not expected to kick this season and take a redshirt year while a cracked vertebra in his back heals, but he said he plans to be a regular at practice and at USF's home football games, supporting his teammates much the same way they've supported him since he was hospitalized last month.
"It's great. I've missed it," Bonani said. "Laying in bed wasn't fun. This is my passion and I couldn't wait to be out here again. It feels great to sweat again, to be with my teammates."
Bonani talked about the July 19 accident, which took place while he worked as an attendant on the SkyRide ride at Busch Gardens in Tampa. A gondola car left his station with the door unlocked, and in trying to lock the door to keep its passengers safe, he found himself hanging as the ride moved higher and higher.
"At the time, it was more instinct than anything," Bonani said. "People can look at it both ways, whether it was my fault or a failure or something, but at the time, no one would know what to do unless you were in that situation. At the time, it's what I was trying to do. I wanted to make sure people were safe."
Bonani said he knew the ride went two and a half minutes before its next station, and not knowing if he could hold on that long, he had the sense to wait until the ride passed over a rocky area to fall 35 feet and land on his feet in a landscaped area, lessening the impact of his fall.
"The good thing about it all is while it was happening, I was actually thinking throughout the whole thing," he said. "As I was holding on, I thought 'Can I hold on?' It's a two and a half minute wait until the next station, and the thing was just going to keep getting higher. If I took a chance, my hand could have slipped and I could have fallen, higher and on concrete, on top of people. I looked down and there were rocks the first couple of feet, and I was like 'I can't fall on rocks.' Then there came a landscaped area, and that's where I decided to let go. I didn't want to take a chance. You have to do something."
Bonani said he let go confident that he would be able to walk away from the two-story fall, landing on his feet to absorb some of the landing.
"I knew it was high, but I felt like I was going to walk away," he said. "The pain wasn't too bad. Once I laid there, I made sure I could move my fingers and toes and legs and all that stuff. Once I was able to do that, I kind of relaxed a lot more. The pain is just a broken-bone pain, you know, typical pain."
Bonani said he is confident in his close friend and teammate, senior Delbert Alvarado, who will take over kicking duties in addition to working as USF's punter. The idea of not playing football this season wasn't easy to accept, but Bonani understands he could be in worse condition than he is.
"It's an unfortunate situation, and it was kind of hard to swallow at first," he said. "I believe everything happens for a reason. So you kind of swallow it. It's tough. I miss it."
Bonani will wear the brace until late October or November, and said his goal from there will be to get back into shape. He joked that he hasn't been able to do much beyond watching TV and eating, so he has weight to lose and muscle to rebuild before he returns to football.
"If the teams needs me ... I don't think we will, because we have Delbert, (who) is a great guy," Bonani said. "And (walk-on) Eric Schwartz and the rest of the guys. I don't think I'll be needed. I have great trust in them. If I'm not needed, I'm just going to rehab and be ready for next season."
Bonani said he finds consolation in being able to support his teammates -- he hopes to help special-teams coach John Hendrick once he's cleared. He said the hardest part is simply not playing.
"I wouldn't say not contributing because that's not true. I'll be here for my teammates, and I feel like I am part of the team, regardless," Bonani said. "On a personal level, not playing and not being active is what bothers me the most. I've always been active. Since high school, I've done a lot of sports. I like being active and around my teammates. ... Just to see everyone sweating. I know it sounds disgusting, but it's a great feeling. I miss it."
Bonani said he was moved by the outpouring of support from coaches, players and fans, especially after spending only one year as a part of the USF football family.
"I was overwhelmed," Bonani said. "One year here, you'd think nobody would ... Everyone came and supported me. Coaches called, players came by, cards, well-wishers for a recovery. It was great."
(Photo courtesy of USF athletics)