To Belding High School senior Erik Doty, the phrase “blessing in disguise” has a unique meaning.
On Oct. 27, 2008, Erik was riding to school in the passenger seat of his brother Kevin’s truck while his cousin, Wade, sat in the back.
But the three never made it to school.
All Erik can remember is a sudden flash of the truck hitting an ice patch and swerving off the road. Three years later, however, all Erik has to do is look down for a constant reminder of that day.
Erik is now fitted with a prosthetic for his right leg from the knee down. His leg was crushed in the accident and was beyond saving. But if you ask him about it, he’ll just smile and tell you he wouldn’t ask for things to be any different.
“God gave me a second chance and I don’t want to waste it,” Erik said. “I believe I’m much better off today than I was before the accident”
Three years ago Erik was a shy student just beginning his freshman year at Belding High School. He didn’t participate in any sports, kept to himself and didn’t have much of an idea as far as what was ahead for him in the future.
Today, Erik is a senior at Belding High School and a 2011 U.S. Paralympic High School Tack and Field All-American.
A star is born
Erik took up track and field for the first time five months ago in June. In his first bout of competition at the Thunder in the Valley Games in Saginaw, he took first in every event he participated in.
“I participated in long jump, discus, shot put, javelin and the 100-meter dash,” Erik said. “I started exercising about a year before I first participated, but I didn’t have any experience.”
Erik then went on to participate in the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma, where he again placed first in every event he participated in, qualifying for the National Junior Championships in Saginaw.
At the championships, Erik competed in discus, javelin and shot put, again placing first in all three events.
“I didn’t think I was going to do as well as I did,” Erik said. “I thought I was just going to go into it and just do it. Just be there.”
His scores in Saginaw earned him the honor of being selected as a High School All-American.
The instant success took Erik’s parents by surprise.
“Erik was always very shy, he didn’t really play any sports,” Erik’s mother, Connie Doty, said. “To all of a sudden go into sports with no prior experience with track and field, we didn’t see this coming. Who knew he could throw so well? But once Erik got a taste of it, we knew he was going to go far with this. It’s fun to be his little cheerleaders in the corner.”
Connie looks back at the accident three years ago and says it still seems like something out of a movie.
“I saw the kids off to school in the morning on my day off from work,” Connie said. “I saw on the news that there was an accident on Long Lake road involving a truck, but everyone around here has a truck. About an hour later my husband Dennis called and told me there was an accident and I knew by the tone of his voice that it was not good at all.”
Connie said the decision to amputate Erik’s leg was tough, but it was an obvious call.
“It was a mutual decision to go with an amputation,” Connie said. “With a prosthetic, he’d be able to run again, and that’s what we wanted for him.”
Erik’s brother, Kevin, says he still lives with the guilt of driving that truck off the road.
“I was just hoping he wouldn’t be mad at me for the rest of his life,” Kevin said. “I felt really guilty. Putting Erik through that, it’s a huge life-altering change. I told him I was sorry and I felt really bad. His leg, that’s something you can’t get back.”
Reflecting three years later, however, Kevin agrees that the accident was for the best.
“Before the accident, he wasn’t really athletic,” Kevin said. “But now he works out everyday. He’s stronger than me and I’m three years older than him. It’s good to see him, to see that he’s handled it this well. I think it’s good the way it is. He’s going somewhere big now, and I’m happy for him. If it didn’t happen, I don’t know what he’d be like.”
Erik plans to wrestle for Belding this winter and will also participate in discus and shot put on the school’s track team this spring.
“I’ll probably wrestle without the leg,” Erik said. “I’m all set for it mentally. I hope to be right up there with them, maybe do better. If I do worse, it’s OK. I’ll just get right back up and do better.”
After graduating this spring, Erik has hopes to continue his efforts in track and field with aspirations to make it on the U.S. Paralympic team in 2016 in Brazil.
“To get there, that would just be amazing,” Erik said. “It will take a lot of effort.”
Erik’s leg injury has not only changed his outlook on life and participation in sports, but has lead a new path for his professional career as well.
“I plan to go to college and start a career in orthotics and prosthetics,” Erik said.
His parents couldn’t be happier with his decision.
“He’s a remarkable kid, but this has given him a direction now,” Connie said. “A direction for social events, for competition and now for what he’s choosing to do with his professional life. It’s opened new doors.”
“That’s the way it should be,” Erik’s father, Dennis Doty said. “You have to give back. So many people have come through for him, it’s time for him to come through for them.”
Asked if there are ever days when he wishes he still had his right leg, Erik just smiled.
“I wouldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t for losing my leg, he said. “I probably wouldn’t be doing any sports and I don’t even know if I would want to go to college. It was a blessing in disguise.”