Looking to the Future after a High School Football Career Ends Too Soon

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Dion Pinkard will never forget Sept. 7, 2018. It was the day his high school football career came to an end.

Pinkard is an extremely versatile athlete who often played both offense and defense for the Legacy Preparatory Christian Academy (LPCA) football team. He was a senior captain of the team and starting running back who also doubled as a linebacker.

While playing defense in a game, Pinkard’s cleat got stuck in the dirt field when he took a turn to go after the opposing quarterback. He felt a distinctive “pop,” the dislocated of his knee and injured multiple major ligaments. At some point he also damaged an artery. An already difficult series of injuries had gone from bad to worse.

Pinkard was rushed to Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, where emergency vascular surgery was performed on his leg.

“In these situations, time is of the essence,” said Tonya Jones, Pinkard’s mother. “When we found out there was a damaged artery, we thought of all the worst things. He could have potentially lost a limb if it wasn’t for the quick response.”

Pinkard had been playing football since he was 5 years old, so a season-ending injury like his was extremely difficult for him–emotionally and physically.

Dr. Casey Stuhlman, orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, performed the surgery to repair Pinkard’s PCL after an initial surgery to repair the damaged artery. It would take an additional four surgeries on Pinkard’s leg, along with a lot of physical therapy, to get him back to normal activity.

“He had a lot of support from his classmates,” Jones said. “Two weeks after the initial injury, he was named homecoming king. He was strictly on crutches at the time and couldn’t bear any weight on his leg, but he was still able to go out onto the field to accept the honor.”

Naturally, Pinkard’s goal was to feel whole again, as well as to bring awareness to sports safety. The Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute uses a variety of tests to evaluate athletes and assign them an injury risk score. Athletic teams who partner with Memorial Hermann as their healthcare provider, such as LPCA, have access to this testing. The tests help determine an athlete’s limitations, which then allows experts to create performance improvement plans for athletes that lower their risk of noncontact injury.

“Most athletes through their injury suffer a tremendous loss both physically and mentally as it creates a huge change and disrupts their ‘normal,’” said Mark Phillips, Outreach Athletic Trainer at Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute at The Woodlands. “There are many new challenges and changes they must face as they progress through the injury and rehabilitation process not knowing if they will ever be able to engage in the activity they love. Dion is no exception. The joy in working with athletes is that they are dedicated and able to face challenges with an attitude that they will succeed. We saw this in Dion.”

Oftentimes, athletic training focuses on getting athletes faster through explosive acceleration, rather than focusing on core strength, deceleration, lateral movements, and landing and jumping techniques. Yet, the latter is what helps prevent injury.

“The injury Dion suffered may defy the normal logic of injury prevention,” Phillips said. “In general, proper preparation, strength training, skill improvement, equipment selection and maintenance of playing surface are important for preventing injuries. Given the unique and unusual set of circumstances that led to Dion’s injury, it is difficult to declare a singular contributing factor.”

Pinkard had his last surgery in March, just a few months before graduation. According to Jones, a major goal of Pinkard’s was to be able to walk across the stage during graduation, which he was able to accomplish. Pinkard hoped to play football at Baylor University, but his plans changed after the injury. His plan now is to continue rehabilitating his knee while attending Blinn College and eventually transfer to Texas A&M. Football is not out of the question for him.

“The experts who have worked with Dion say that his football career isn’t over,” Jones said. “It’s all about preparation and opportunity. He has it in him to achieve greatness. He has a bright future.”

The IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute offers leading clinical expertise of recovery and endurance training that not only helps injured athletes return to their sport faster, but also helps strong athletes reach their untapped potential. The Institute’s innovative care provides athletes of all ages and skill levels the services they need to reach their personal athletic goals. 

By: Drew Munhausen

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