HOLMEN, Nov 16, 2012 (La Crosse Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The opportunity that Ben Fiers was receiving had been pushing him for as long as he could remember.
It had been roughly 10 months -- 327 days, to be exact, on Thursday -- since the Holmen High School senior was involved in an automobile accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury.
But Thursday marked the biggest athletic achievement of Fiers' career when he walked into a gymnasium full of teammates and wrestling mats and participated in a practice session.
"This feels normal to me ... finally," Fiers said with slow, but focused, words. "After everything I've overcome, I'm back out here doing it and not laying in my bed doing nothing."
Fiers was injured in a one-vehicle accident when the car he was driving crossed the center line on Hwy. ZB in Onalaska and hit a tree the night of Dec. 24.
Fiers was hospitalized in La Crosse, St. Paul and then La Crosse again until March.
As his recovery progressed, he used the possibility of wrestling again as heavy motivation.
Fiers has a 73-23 career record and is a two-time WIAA sectional champion and state qualifier. He placed sixth at 171 pounds as a sophomore after an injury ended his semifinal match early and forced him to forfeit his last two matches.
Fiers would have been at Monday's first practice, but he had to wait for a protective helmet -- similar to something an amateur boxer would wear -- to arrive.
Annie Fiers, Ben's mother, was at her son's side to watch him practice and handle a couple of media interviews.
She said in the middle of practice that Ben might not be wrestling if the decision was solely hers, but that his passion for the sport led Annie and her husband, Troy, to let him give it a try.
He didn't participate in a new rope-jumping regimen that Holmen coach Jason Lulloff has implemented, but he did go through stretching drills with the team and some basic live drills with Lulloff.
It was hardly the place anyone could expect to see Fiers after spending the Christmas holiday season in a medically induced coma and then embarking on a long and difficult road to recovery that will continue past his last experiences with the sport of wrestling.
The senior said that wrestling has been the key motivation behind his recovery and the ability to attack it like he has.
"Without wrestling, I don't know if I would have made it through my accident," Fiers said. "I don't know if I could make it through my recovery."
Most of the physical damage from the accident is on Fiers' right side, and he said that was an obstacle in trying to start working again with the sport. That meant reversing the way he approached every move and using his left side as the dominant one.
Fiers' first physical contact during practice came during a 15- or 20-minute block with Lulloff.
"It's refreshing for me to see him here, but slightly scary, too," said Lulloff, who plans to be the one working with Fiers in practice. "He's been saying he was gonna do this since he could talk.
"I believed him. Now, the day is here, and I think a lot of people are shocked to see it."
Fiers said he knows that there are plenty of people who didn't think he'd ever be able to walk onto that practice mat again.
He said that simply getting to practice on Thursday was a victory for him, but that his future is still undecided.
"It's a big question mark," he said. "We don't know how good I'll be able to wrestle."
If anyone can come back from such an injury and work himself back into a chance to compete in a sport like wrestling again, Lulloff believes it is Fiers.
"I know he has a long, long way to go before he could even think about competing," Lulloff said. "But if you've ever watched Ben work, I don't think it's impossible at all.
"This is exciting for Ben, it's exciting for his family, and it's exciting for our team."
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