Five years ago, as Bloomingdale High senior Brad Schneider lay in a hospital bed with a broken right femur and 12-inch incisions in his left leg as a result of a nasty infection, doctors weren't sure he would walk again.
Eight months later, when he ventured back to the golf course, Schneider wasn't sure he would play competitively again.
But Thursday, he will walk onto the first tee box at the NCAA regional in Stanford, Calif., having never missed a tournament in his Central Florida career. The senior is in the midst of his most successful collegiate year, with four top-five finishes, including a tie for first in September's Northern Intercollegiate and first-team All-Conference USA honors. Last week he added the David Toms Award, presented to a male collegiate golfer who has overcome adversity to achieve excellence.
"He's just one hell of a competitor," coach Bryce Wallor said. "A lot of people in his situation, having to go through something like that, would lie down, they wouldn't keep fighting. And Brad just keeps coming back and coming back. The fight is never over for him, and you just don't necessarily see that in a lot of people."
What started as an annual pre-Thanksgiving football game on the outfield grass of the Bloomingdale baseball field ended with an ambulance ride to Brandon Regional Hospital in November 2006. As he slipped behind one of his friends to catch a pass, he was caught and dragged down by his shoulders. His right leg was trapped unnaturally behind him, his tennis shoe a few inches from his face.
"I felt the pain and knew I was kind of in trouble at that point," said Schneider, the Tampa Bay Times' 2005 golfer of the year. "I was hoping it wasn't too bad, and I'd be back to playing golf very soon. Unfortunately, it didn't go as smoothly as I wanted it to."
His friends immediately called 911 and his parents. Jim Schneider didn't grasp the severity at first, but when he heard his son screaming in the background of a second call, he headed to Brandon Regional. His wife, Rebecca, a registered nurse who worked at the hospital, was already there.
"There was a time during that ambulance ride where we weren't even moving but I thought I felt motion and was just screaming in pain," said Schneider, who wasn't given any pain medication at the field. "But we got to the hospital, and my mom was there waiting for me. That was really comforting, and I knew I was going to be okay at that point."
The initial surgery was on Thanksgiving. Schneider spent the next week and a half in and out of multiple surgeries. When his head cleared, he was confused about why there were bandages on his left leg when his right femur had snapped.
That's when he first learned of Compartment Syndrome, a complication from swelling in the tissue between groups of muscles that causes permanent nerve damage. Essentially, his muscles swelled beyond the point where his skin could contain them, so doctors had to cut out most of his calf muscle and make two 12-inch incisions to relieve the pressure.
In the following weeks, Schneider — who stands 5 feet 6 and weighed 150 pounds before his injury — lost 50 pounds. Because his mom was an RN he was able to recover at home.
Three months later, he could sit in a chair. At five months, he began to use a walker. His first steps on his own came at seven months. And one month later he was on the golf course.
"As soon as I started hitting my driver and playing a couple holes, then I knew I had a chance to come back," Schneider said. "I had lot of good technique and memory from junior golf. I could still hit the ball well, it was just a matter of gaining my strength back."
Schneider took a medical redshirt at UCF for the 2007-08 year to rebuild his strength and gain back weight. Randy Myers, current director of fitness at Sea Island Golf Learning Center in St. Simons Island, Ga., and coach to PGA tour players such as Davis Love III and Zach Johnson, had worked with Schneider since he was 14. He estimated it took 18 months to regain the ability to move as he did before the accident.
"It took a while, but he finally felt like he could get the power and distance to be competitive," said Myers, who showed Schneider the strength profiles of similarly sized PGA Tour members to motivate him. "He's actually very powerful for a little guy; he hits it pretty far. It was more about the endurance of playing 36 holes and carrying his own bag."
During Schneider's recovery, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. The last tournament she saw him play was the 2009 NCAA regional in Sorrento when he shot 8-under 63 in the third round and finished second. She died that summer.
His father will be with him at Stanford, and his sisters, Alli and Kate, will send their support. Schneider graduated with a degree in finance and will spend this summer playing in tournaments as an amateur. He hopes to turn pro soon thereafter.
"It was a really slow process," Schneider said of his recovery. "And it's surreal now, looking back at my five years at UCF, and four years playing. It's been a lot of fun."
Laura Keeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.