By: Connor Lenahan
It was 10:30 AM. I was walking up the stairs to my calculus class with a few of my close friends. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
I turned to my friend Serena DeSeta to hand her some CDs I was making her listen to. When I turned back around my left toe dragged on the carpet.
I lost my balance.
I fell forward.
When I reached out to try and grab the person in front of me to save me from collapsing it was too late. My left tibia and fibula had already collapsed under the momentum and weight placed on it. I fell on the floor, narrowly avoiding falling on my cane or my backpack. I rolled over onto my side and stayed there. It was a fall that my friend Matt Gronsky would call “graceful, given that my shin was in half.”
The hallway fell dead silent. Hundreds of teenagers speechless. They all knew.
Matt, and everyone else I was with, ran to me asking if I was okay. I blurted out a quick no. Everyone sprang into action.
The halls cleared. My friends were forced to dissipate. The teachers created a protective bubble around me and maintained it until I was taken to the hospital.
I was able to keep a smile on my face somehow. I made a ton of jokes during the wait. I wasn’t in pain. I’m not sure how. My leg was literally in half. Thankfully I was wearing lose jeans and high-top sneakers, so the only person to know the awkward angle of my shin was me until the paramedics sliced my Levis to get a better view.
I didn’t realize when I was lying on the floor of Abington Heights High School that a chain of events had just been set in motion that would change my life forever.
Let’s start with the obvious. The first thing to change was my streak. I had been fracture free since December 2009. That came to a violent end that June morning.
If you know me at all you know I suffer from Osteogenesis Imperfecta. This means I have brittle bones. Breaking them is not out of the ordinary. To the contrary, this was my tenth break.
I think that means I get a free sub sandwich at Subway. Isn’t that how the punch card reward system works?
It was also my most severe. I’ve broken each of my shins twice, my left femur once, my right femur thrice, my right elbow, and my L5 vertebrae in my two decades on this planet. If you want to get technical there’s a (probable) broken wrist and some other stuff in there, but our (Read: My parents, doctors, and my) personal “official” tally is 10.
Because of the nature of the break – a complete fracture of the tibia – my long time doctor/hero Peter Pizzutillo decided that the best course of action for me would be a corrective surgery to the original casting of the broken leg. Thus, three days after the leg split in half I went back under the knife. I emerged from my anesthesia a new man. Specifically, Iron Man.
When I was home resting the leg I was blessed with an overwhelming amount of care and support from my friends and family. There was not a minute I spent alone. To this day I cannot thank my friends enough for refusing to leave me alone.
This break could and should have been more devastating than it was. Not physically; the damage had been done there. Rather, mentally. This was nine days before I was set to walk across the stage at graduation. A goal I had set when I was in middle school. I missed it narrowly.
I didn’t even care. My friends kept me happy enough that I didn’t have to worry about walking across the stage. That wouldn’t make my life perfect; they already did.
Plus the painkillers. Those really helped.
But while I was stuck at home I decided to finally pull the trigger on an idea that I had been playing around with for months. I decided to try a new outlet for writing.
I started Unbreakable.
It quickly developed into one of the most fun things I have ever elected to do. I loved coming up with new things to write about to pass the time. There is, somehow, a limit to how much Netflix one can watch at a given time. I reached it. Unbreakable evolved from a project to a necessity.
A month after I broke the leg I ventured to Boston University to see my new school for the first time sine the previous October.
I loved every minute of it.
Well, almost. I didn’t love being confined to a leg cast in literal 100 degree heat, but that was a secondary concern. My first concern was navigating the city with a broken leg. I was unsure as to whether or not it would work for me.
Thankfully it did. One of the mottos of my family for quite some time has been to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” Knowing I could make my way around Boston with a healing fracture was as large a relief to my parents and I as anything.
I quickly fell in love with the school, the future students I will be graduating with in 2017, and the people behind the scenes that make Boston University the greatest place on earth. Come at me Disneyland.
A few days before I moved into Warren Towers for the beginning of my new life in Boston, my cast was removed. It was oddly symbolic. It was like the world was releasing an invisible anchor on my body and allowing me to venture out into the world a free man.
It didn’t take long for me to meet people here. My floor, the immortal Six C, were the first people I bonded with. It was delightful not only to me but to my parents that there were a bunch of kids willing to help me with any and everything I needed in the early stages.
What made the early days of college difficult was the fact that I was not yet back up walking. I currently use a wheelchair off and on; I walk when I need to or when I’m indoors. I didn’t have this ability when I first moved to BU. It was frightening that I was now more confined than I liked to be.
Then I met Maurice and James.
I think one of the biggest side effects of the breaks was a renewed drive within me. I quit being afraid of anything. I’d introduce myself to people. I’d share my writing publicly. I’d be living hours away from my family for the first time.
It never phased me. I felt bulletproof. This is odd considering that it took a shattered leg to make me invincible.
With my confidence running at an all time high I stopped Maurice Watson Jr and James Kennedy on their way out of Warren Towers one night. This remains one of the most important conversations I’ve ever had.
I quickly became friends with both of them. They introduced me to a brand new world of college basketball. They brought me into the family.
It was because of the players and coaches of Boston University’s basketball team that I knew that I could and would be back up on my feet soon. These guys never looked at me as someone confined to a wheelchair.
This has never been an issue for me at home where people know my situation, but this was different. Me being in the chair was all they knew. But they knew that wasn’t who I was. That’s what inspired me to get to the gym every day and get stronger. And stronger. And stronger.
By October I was walking. I had obliterated, repeat: obliterated, the expected time for rehab. I did it for the guys. I did it for my family. I did it for me.
They inspired me to become a stronger person. I inspired them to be unbreakable just like me.
I wrote last November about the bond between the guys and I; a bond that has only grown stronger with time. This remains my favorite article I’ve ever written because of how important it was to my life.
They didn’t have to give me the time of day. They didn’t have to pay me any attention. Instead they brought in a kid who had never had access to the world of sports like they did and made him feel as close to being a collegiate athlete as possible without me getting dunked on.
The season I spent with the guys – my brothers – was and is the most fun I have had in my entire life. Win or lose I just loved getting to spend time with people that made me want to get stronger every single day.
No matter where they go in this life I will always be behind them heart and soul. They changed my life for the better and I will always, always owe them for it.
The article I wrote about why the players of Boston University were so amazing got a lot of attention. It was also the catalyst to making a dream of mine come true.
Dan Mercurio quickly snatched me up to become his new guy for Boston University Athletics. He allowed me an opportunity that I had hoped for for years. I got to announce athletic events at a collegiate level.
I had hoped that at some point in my four years at BU that I would get to announce a game. Now? I’m the official PA for women’s basketball and I regularly announce other sports like women’s hockey or lacrosse despite not knowing the first thing about either sport. I just know when to shout “Goal” into a live microphone.
This allowed me to pursue one of my passions for a living. At nineteen. Saying this was a “dream come true” would be an understatement. This was a fantasy world that I was allowed to live in.
I spent the second half of the academic year working for athletics. Then came quite possibly the most incredible experience of my life.
BU Today did a profile on me and my quest to become Unbreakable.
This was the single most touching thing to ever happen to me. I cannot thank everyone who was responsible for making this video, everyone who watched the video, everyone who read the article, everyone who supported me not just when it came out but every day over the past year enough. It means more than I will ever be able to express, and that’s saying something given I’m a writer.
That video lead to me being hired for the summer to stay in Boston to work for Activities Information. My job? Work on the social media presence for the department. I get to run their accounts and try and make the lives of the students of Boston University just a little brighter by tweeting out pictures of puppies and making jokes about the Charles River being filled with Nutella.
Actually, that one wasn’t a joke.
Regardless, this allows me the ability to pursue yet another passion of mine for a living. I will not shut up online. Everything you just read has been proof of that. I love it all. Being able to have fun with what I’m doing is a true blessing. To be encouraged to be a goofball is a part of a job I never expected to have but an eternally thankful to own.
Why all of this today you ask?
June 4th 2013. That was the day my leg shattered.
Today marks one year since that fateful day.
Know what? It also marks 365 days since I broke anything.
I am unbreakable. I have proof.
I didn’t realize upon my descent to the brown carpet of the math hallway of Abington Heights High School that my life would become better because of it.
I am stronger now that I ever was before. I have a confidence to do whatever I want in life thanks to this injury. I have been blessed with some of the best friends a man could ever ask for. I have been gifted the ability to pursue multiple passions. I have been allowed the chance to do what I love and be successful with it. I have been blessed with an amazing life.
Thank you. Thank you all. I never thought that it would be a shattered leg that would make everything turn out perfect in my life, yet here we are.
You are what keeps me alive. You are what makes me unbreakable. You are what make me into who I am today. I will never be able to repay you for that.
But I’m sure as hell going to try.
Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is a sophomore at Boston University, majoring in journalism.