Hard work conquers all
Lurking in the back of every athlete's mind is the fear of suffering a career-ending injury.
For Detroit Lakes High School senior Kyle Muckenhirn that fear had seemed to become reality on a clear Friday night last fall.
The Laker football team had made the long journey to Duluth with aspirations of clinching a conference title against Duluth Denfeld when in the second quarter -- then junior -- Kyle Muckenhirn received a pass from quarterback Chris Gilson.
Upon catching the ball, a Duluth defender made a routine tackle from behind, yet Muckenhirn's cleat stuck in the ground causing him to bend forward over top of his left knee -- tearing the three main ligaments in his knee and causing partial nerve damage.
"I don't know how to explain it," Muckenhirn said of his immediate reaction. "It was the worst pain I've ever felt and then it all went numb."
He remained stable for the night and required immediate surgery to save what they could of his nerves.
Muckenhirn's mother Brenda Muckenhirn is a physical therapist and was in attendance that night.
"At first I just thought he lost his breath," Brenda recalls. "It wasn't until Mike Labine (who is a coach and was video taping the game) told me it was his knee."
"I just thought it was just a simple ACL injury and he'd be back in four months." Brenda said.
It wasn't until Dr. Tom Seaworth examined Muckenhirn that she knew it was much worse.
"As he was walking by I ask how it was," explained Brenda. "He just shook his head and grimaced that's when I knew it was bad."
Life from the sidelines
Brenda took control of rehabilitation for the first few weeks but decided that as a professional -- and mother -- she shouldn't continue.
"I had never seen an injury like this," Brenda stated. "I had nothing to go on."
They brought Muckenhirn to a specialist at the University of Minnesota for the bulk of his rehab.
"Rehab was a lot of riding bike, leg raises, and stretching," said Muckenhirn. "When I started feeling better, they started me on a lifting program."
Muckenhirn had to go through a series of surgeries -- which left him in a wheelchair and eventually on crutches for nearly a year.
"The time table initially was a year, until I was walking on my own," Muckenhirn explained. "They said I'd never play sports again."
"Kyle never got angry about the situation, he just said it was the circumstances he was given," his mother recalls. "That's what impressed me the most -- his acceptance and maturity."
Muckenhirn didn't forget his teammates during the rehabilitation -- as he was a contributing part of his basketball and football teams during their respective seasons.
"I didn't want to lose sight of my goal," Muckenhirn said. "By being around it -- it just gave me inspiration."
Every game during the 2008 Laker football season Muckenhirn was on the sideline in his number five jersey supporting the team.
"It was hard just to watch," Muckenhirn added. "Although it did help me see things from a different perspective."
Kyle took on the role of team manager last basketball season and to head coach Robb Flint, that said a lot.
"It proved his dedication to the game," Flint said. "He was at practice, running the clock and did all of our stats."
Muckenhirn's routine changed drastically-- he lost nearly all of his independence and learned humility.
"Getting dressed was the worse," said Muckenhirn. "I lost all of my pride -- it was tough."
Kyle's mother, however, says she saw the opposite from her son.
"He was always positive and polite," Brenda stated. "Nothing seemed to get him down."
The University of Minnesota is using Muckenhirn's injury as a learning tool for knee specialists to come.
"They've recorded every part of this process," Brenda said. "Every part from pre-surgery to him playing basketball today is on film and being used."
Disaster strikes twice
During preparation for the 08-09 basketball season Muckenhirn suffered a meniscus injury in his right knee that looked to cost him his senior basketball season -- yet he never lost hope.
"It didn't affect my confidence (on a return) at all," chuckled Muckenhirn. "If anything it evened things out -- so I wasn't so dependent on my right leg."
Individuals who experience a meniscus tear usually experience pain and swelling as primary symptoms.
Another common complaint is joint locking or the inability to completely straighten the joint-- this is due to a piece of the torn cartilage physically impinging the joint mechanism of the knee.
"Coming back from that second injury said a lot about Muck," commented Flint. "It shows his demeanor, his willpower and how he was raised."
Don't call it a comeback
This Laker basketball season has seen Muckenhirn get solid minutes as one of the boys' key players.
"I feel like I can do more," said Muckenhirn when asked if it hindered him. "When I'm playing I don't even notice it."
Brenda has also learned what to expect during a game.
"I still grimace every time I see him take a charge," Brenda admits. "Yet, I can see how he has learned to adjust to the injury and the changes he's made in his game."
Muckenhirn is leading the team in rebounds and is really an inspiration to his teammates and fellow athletes.
"At first it affected me," Muckenhirn confessed. "That's not the case anymore."
"Kyle's a top notch kid," Flint said. "He wanted to be part of this team -- and we wanted him."
Kyle is not only working hard to get to a hundred percent -- he's working hard to inspire his teammates.
"I make the extra effort to try to be first in sprints," Muckenhirn stated. "I tell the guys if I can do it on one leg -- you guys should be able to do more on two."
Kyle has learned how to cope with the knee injury as the season has progressed and has become an integral part of the game plan.
"He's (coach Flint) gained confidence in me," commented Muckenhirn. "Just as I have."
This experience helped Kyle mature and learn just how easy dreams and goals can be taken away.
"He doesn't take anything for granted," added Flint. "He doesn't expect things to be handed to him so he works hard everyday -- and that's what the good players do."
Muckenhirn may have injured his knee -- but he only showed his heart and dedication for the game he loves.
"With hard work you can accomplish anything," is what Flint says is the lesson at hand. "He's not the old Muck -- he's still pretty darn good though."