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Tournaments Mar 01, 2012

Youth Spotlight: Clearwater Chargers’ ‘medical miracle’ attempts another comeback

By Roger Gonzalez

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another installment in our series profiling unique people, places and stories in the youth game. This week Roger Gonzalez tells the story of Kendall Futch, a Clearwater Chargers ’94 forward who overcame life-threatening brain injuries only to fall victim to a broken leg in a December training session. Her Chargers team will compete in the Jefferson Cup’s Girls weekend March 16-18.

Persistence: not many people have it, let alone in combination with ample reserves of patience and strength.

Young soccer player Kendall Futch has all three attributes, and in reality, there was no other way she could’ve overcome the trials and tribulations that have beset her over the past 15 months.

A 17-year-old forward for the Clearwater Chargers ’94 in Clearwater, Fla., Futch has experienced an unbearable, unimaginable time of struggle dating back to November 2010, when she nearly lost her life after falling off a golf cart.

“I was Black Friday shopping,” she recalled. “We had come back into the neighborhood. I live in a golf-cart community.

“I don’t remember it. I feel like I kind of [re]create it in my mind. Apparently we [a friend and her] were standing on the back…My friend didn’t notice that I might have been texting. We didn’t know we were turning and I was swung backwards.”

She doesn’t remember falling onto the road.

“I was screaming, I was angry,” Futch said she was told. “It took five people to hold me down.”

Then things went from bad to worse. Aside from the unconfirmed injuries, she was supposed to be flown to one hospital, but was then flown to St. Joseph’s in Tampa due to a storm.

She also stopped breathing.

A medically-induced coma soon followed — she had suffered six brain hemorrhages, frontal-lobe damage and a skull fracture, among other ailments.

“Most people would be dead or paralyzed,” Futch said of the accident. “My doctors told me I was a medical miracle.”

It was shocking news to say the least for the team.

“We got a call from her mother,” coach Siggi Nagele said. “We have a pretty close team. Everybody kind of rallied around her, wanted to know how she was doing. I was fearful we were going to lose her.

“I expected to get a call any day saying she passed away. She is very fortunate.

“Maybe the man upstairs was looking over her.”

It affected the team greatly.

“Initially, I think it was just a huge shock,” coach Nagele said. “It wasn’t a soccer-related injury. You could tell, kids were a little hesitant. It definitely impacted them. They all ended up appreciating their relationships and their health a lot more.

“When she walked in the first time after she was released from the hospital, it was a heart-wrenching reunion when we met in in the clubhouse. It was pretty emotional. It was somebody we didn’t expect to see again.”

After the accident, Futch didn’t have to rehab, shockingly enough, and was out of the hospital after just 11 days.

“I actually have a higher GPA now than I did before,” Futch said.

Her recovery has been inspiring. But she won’t be able to participate in the prestigious Jefferson Cup tournament in Richmond, Va. with her teammates later this month. Those hopes were thrown a bit off course, but not because of the 2010 accident. In mid-December she broke her leg in practice after a collision with a teammate.

“When you break pasta, it’s exactly how it felt,” Futch said.

“Crazy, unfortunate things, not-so-good things happen to good people. There are some days where I think I can’t do it. Then, I think I’m going to prove all those people wrong who said I can’t do it.”

It’s also been a crazy process for her coach, whose heart was wrenched by what Futch has had to go through.

“It’s a great testament to her strength,” Nagele said.

“I didn’t think we would ever see her play again. She is a remarkable kid. I think what has gotten her through all this is what makes her great on the field. It’s her desire to compete, to play. As a forward, you have to constantly be taking players on. She puts a lot of effort into it.

“It’s a whole new perspective to me in terms of what’s really important.”

Now nearly 50 percent recovered from the leg injury, all Futch wants to do is play soccer with her friends and enjoy life, having learned that it can be taken away in an instant. She plans on making the trip to Richmond for the Jefferson Cup to cheer on her team and has only missed two practices throughout all of the incidents.

Don’t bet on her missing the cup.

“It would mean a lot to me,” Futch said. “I appreciate life and soccer so much more.”

If you’re in Richmond, Va. for the Jefferson Cup Girls weekend March 16-18, set aside some time to cheer on Kendall Futch’s teammates, who will compete in the challenging Under-17 Platinum division against FC Copa Real (N.J.) and New York sides World Class FC Academy and Black Watch Premier-Buffalo Jags.