After a detrimental injury to his neck during a football practice in the fall of 2017 left him paralyzed from the chest down and unable to walk, Bushnell was back in the maroon and gold and representing the Mustangs in athletic competition for the first time in nearly a year and seven months.
Eldon senior Hunter Bushnell does not have time to dwell on or worry about what he is unable to do.
After a detrimental injury to his neck during a football practice in the fall of 2017 left him paralyzed from the chest down and unable to walk, Bushnell was back in the maroon and gold and representing the Mustangs in athletic competition for the first time in nearly a year and seven months at a home meet on Thursday.
The Eldon senior took on the para 100-meter dash where he finished second with a time of 48.07 seconds.
“There is a lot I go through, but at the same time I look at it as how can I make myself better and what can I do to make myself better,” the senior explained. “I think about it, evaluate what I’m going through, find out what is still available to me and what I can do to better myself, push through it and in the end have a better and more polished version of myself compared to before.
“Even if I’m less physically capable or whatever the case may be, if I’m emotionally and and psychologically better than where I was in the beginning then that is all that really matters.”
Bushnell has had his sights set on a return for about a year now, but the road to competition began about two weeks ago with an organization known as the Disabled Athletes Sports Association which was able to provide the senior with his first manual wheelchair. There was not much time to spare because the senior needed to have 14 practices in order to compete at the Maroon and Gold Relays, which also happened to be the team’s only home meet and Senior Night.
But give Bushnell an opportunity and he will find a way to get things done. There was no way he was about to miss out on his debut and he completed the final required practice the day before, despite a few days of feeling ill while getting up an hourly early to get sessions in before school and working for hours afterwards. He also spent time in the weight room figuring out different lifts and movements that would be beneficial.
“Obviously there are a lot of people who find reasons why they can’t and Hunter always finds a reason why he can which is just awesome so I was very happy and proud of him,” Eldon boys’ track and field coach Greg Warlop said.
“He has every reason to be bitter and making excuses and he does not do that. He finds a reason to do things instead of a reason why not and that is rare, especially in a situation like this, so I’m extremely proud of him.”
The ability to compete once again is all the senior ever really needed.
“It has definitely been taxing, but it has also been really rewarding just being able to compete and push myself. I have not been able to do that and have not been able to take my energy out,” Bushnell said. “To do the competing and athletic stuff I used to do to make myself feel good, it is really nice to be able to do that once again… it is definitely worth it.”
Then it was time to race. Everything he had put himself through the previous two weeks would come together for a stretch of 100 meters down the track. Bushnell said because of the time it takes to make it to the finish line, he finds plenty of thoughts rushing through his head and among those thoughts is why he is racing in the first place.
“It is such a short period of time and at the same time it also feels like forever,” Bushnell said of making his way down the track.
“Then I start thinking of all the people who supported me, all the reasons I’m pushing myself and all the reasons I’m competing. It is kind of humbling and reassuring that I am actually doing something for myself and others and that I have something to push myself for.”
Among those reasons is having the opportunity to represent Eldon in athletic competition once again.
“It is nice to be able to represent the town after they represented me,” Bushnell said looking back at all the support he has received since that fall day. “Just to be able to compete as an Eldon athlete- it is just nice to do that again because obviously that was huge for me and sports were everything. Being back in the loop of things is just so nice.
“The last time I felt that same energy and support was on the night I came back a couple of weeks after my injury,” Bushnell continued, referring to the night he returned to Mustang Memorial Park during a football game against School of the Osage. “It was that same feeling and I don’t know how to explain it. Unless you’ve been in that situation, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to understand it. It is a very humbling feeling and hopefully I’m doing the same thing and giving them inspiration and good feelings.”
Warlop said the senior does not have to worry about that.
“The support for Hunter and our kids in general from the community is just awesome. They are behind us and him and he really exemplifies kind of what we are about,” the coach said of the town. “They always overcome and keep fighting and grinding trying to find ways to get through things and keep going.”
But it does not stop there for Bushnell. He has not been able to use his manual wheelchair for very long, but he is already doing research each day to figure out every little thing he can do to improve his times and ensure his strides and pushes are consistent.
“I’m ready to go on without the wind,” he said jokingly.” That will be the best opportunity for me to do the best I can.”
He has high ambitions as he will not only represent Eldon at the state track and field meet in Jefferson City in May, but have an opportunity to compete beyond the state lines.
The senior is registered with the Disabled Athletes Sports Association and will compete at state in that organization. Since he finished with a time of 48.07 seconds, he also qualified to go onto the Junior National Championships in the summer after finishing his race in under 52 seconds. The Disabled Athletes Sports Association has different classifications of functionality for its athletes in any one event whereas the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) provides a single event for any particular para athlete.
“If you get within the certain times of the Team USA times then they get you in contact with them and the coaches. If I get there I’ll have a chance to get on USA Paralympics and that would be exciting,” Bushnell remarked. “That is for another day.”
Rest assured, the Eldon senior will find out what it takes and continue to push forward in all avenues of life. He is a Mustang motivated to move and dedicated to maximizing his potential and abilities.
“I’m able to find the best possible circumstance with what I have and that is what I look at and focus on,” he stated. “Whatever goes on and whatever downfall I go through, I just make sure that I push myself and find the best outcome possible.”