Vandermeer: I’m coming back
By Bill Althaus - (courtesy of www.examiner.net)
Bill Vandermeer is accustomed to success.
The Missouri Mavericks forward was one of the Central Hockey League team’s top offensive threats when he was healthy last season, and this year he promised fans they would see something special every time he took the ice.
That was before he left his apartment in Independence to help a buddy with some chores down in Oklahoma.
Vandermeer was pruning a tree, more than 20 feet off the ground, when the unthinkable happened.
He was sawing a large limb with a chain saw, when it snapped back and knocked him two stories to the ground.
“I threw the chain saw away – thank goodness,” Vandermeer said, “and hit the ground.”
He hit with such force that the heels in each foot were shattered.
“You look at the X-rays of my heels, and it looked like oatmeal or sawdust – there were so many pieces of bone fragment,” Vandermeer said. “The doctors told me there wasn’t enough good bone to even drill into for all the plates and screws. They had to use this liquid stuff, have it harden, and then go from there.”
That was three months ago.
The prognosis was grim: 12 weeks in a wheelchair and then, the scoring machine would have to learn how to walk again.
The brightest prospect had him back on the ice in February. The grimmest prospects pointed to a career off the ice.
But Vandermeer would have none of that.
“I’m light years ahead of where I should be,” said Vandemeer, who was given air casts on Wednesday to replace the boots he had been wearing the past few weeks.
“The air casts are great. They support the ankle and let me get up and walk. It’s painful — I can only stand for about 3 minutes before the pain just makes it unbearable to keep standing — but no one expected me to be walking at this time.”
Well, no one except Vandermeer.
“I told everyone I was going to be back by Nov. 15 and they looked at me like I was crazy,” he said. “The way I feel now, with the air casts and the support they give me, I might even be back sooner.
“I’m not going to rush, and I’m on a program where there are some things I have to do before they’ll let me go out on the ice. But I’m getting there.”
He has to balance on one foot successfully and do a squat before he can hit the ice. And he’s counting the minutes.
“You know, the team is doing the promotion where they are honoring heroes in the community (www.missourimavericks.com) and boy, do I have a list of heroes,” he said.
“My surgeons, Dr. Nathan Melton and Dr. Greg Ballard, and my physical therapist, Matt Hess — I don’t know where I’d be without those guys. The boys on the team would come by and talk with me and keep me from going stir crazy and friends Craig and Precious Wilcox were always there for me.
“So was everyone from the Mavericks organization. They could have written me off, cast me aside, and they have stood by me through this entire ordeal.”
Vandermeer paused for a moment and added, softly, “And my wife Janna. Oh boy, where would I have been without her? Our first (wedding) anniversary is Sept. 9 and we’re going to the Lake of the Ozarks – and I’m hoping to be walking with a walker by that date.”
Last season, Vandermeer tore a tendon in a finger in preseason, then suffered the high ankle sprain midway through the season, forcing him to miss 24 games.
“We saw what Bill could do in the postseason (when he led the team in goals scored) and we want to see that same Bill Vandemeer this season,” coach Scott Hillman said.
“We’re glad he’s ahead of schedule. That makes it a little bit easier to see how we’re going to piece the team together. Three months ago, we didn’t know if he would be able to play hockey.
“Now, we know that he has a very good chance of coming back. And if he can come back Nov. 15, that’s going to put us over the hump.”
Many fans have vowed to Vandermeer that they will be at the Events Center when he returns to the team, and that just makes him more determined to hit the ice.
“I’m not going to let anyone down,” he said. “I’m out of the wheelchair, I can walk again – I’m cruising.
“I’ll see you Nov. 15.”