ADA TOWNSHIP — Life can throw a lot of challenges one’s way, and how you overcome those challenges can shape you into the person you are today.
For recent Belding High School graduate Erik Doty, everything about who he is today can be tracked to one tragic event that nearly took his life almost four years ago.
Before being involved in a car accident on his way to school in the fall of 2008, Erik was your average teenager. He was shy, kept to himself, hung out with friends and was just enjoying life as a kid who was entering his first year of high school.
After living through an accident that claimed his right leg, spending weeks in urgent care, going through years of therapy and monthly sessions with doctors and specialists working to fit him with proper prosthetic legs, Erik is less than a week away from finding out if he will represent the United States in the Paralympic Games in London this summer.
“I just got better I guess,” Erik said with a laugh about the progress he’s made since losing his right leg from below the knee. “Everybody’s been pretty supportive and I have worked out really hard.”
After his accident crushed his leg on Oct. 27, 2008, when Erik was riding to school in the passenger seat of his brother Kevin’s truck, Erik was fitted with a prosthetic for his right leg from the knee down.
Inspired by others at the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, who weren’t nearly as lucky as Erik, who lost only one leg, Erik decided to take on the field events of discus, shot put and javelin, and nearly overnight he was an instant success.
“It feels like it’s natural,” Erik said of his prosthetic leg. “As I move, it just goes along with me.”
His father, Dennis Doty, still just shakes his head when looking at his son’s success in track and field.
“From last year to this year, watching him throw, it’s been a huge difference,” he said. “Everywhere he goes he just seems to win gold medals.
Erik has performed in numerous competitions, earning accolades as a U.S. Paralympic High School Tack and Field All-American in 2011.
Now he will attempt to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic games this summer, something his father said never seemed like a possibility.
“We were just laughing about it,” he said. “We thought maybe he could qualify for the games in Brazil in 2016, but here we are less than a week from seeing if he’ll be going to London.”
According to Erik’s certified prosthetist and orthotist, Tim Darling, in his 13 years of work, he has never come across someone quite like Erik.
“I’ve worked with other athletes, but nobody of Erik’s caliber,” Darling said.
Darling has worked with Erik to come up with the most comfortable prosthetic leg possible, and within a week of trying to qualify for the games, a final fitting was formed.
“With Erik’s events that he does, we don’t need to do a special running leg,” he said. “He just needed a leg that he would be comfortable with every day. One of the things that we did want to see, however, was greater range of motion through the knee. In order to do that, we needed much greater suspension.”
Darling switched Erik’s prosthesis to a vacuum system that allows a greater suspension mechanism to link him with his prosthesis in a much more intimate manner.
Darling said Erik’s story should be an inspiration to anyone who is going through anything similar.
“Everybody is different, but Erik is very determined,” he said. “He is probably in much better physical condition than he was prior to his accident. He’s missing a limb and he’s quite capable of doing many, many things better than most people. It’s inspiring to see someone like Erik, who follows through and not only does these things, but excels at them.”
Erik’s mother, Connie Doty, said she couldn’t be more proud of what her son has accomplished, and she won’t be discouraged if he doesn’t make it to London this year.
“We’re all very proud,” Connie said. “Even if he doesn’t make it to London, making it this far is an incredible achievement in itself,” she said. “If he does make it to London, that will be incredible, but if he doesn’t, he’s got a hunting trip planned with his dad out in Wyoming.”
Despite going through so much at such a young age, Erik said he still wouldn’t change a thing about what has happened to him up to this point.
“I still feel that way, yes,” Erik said. “Everything I do, athletically and what I want to study in college, it’s all because of my accident. It has shaped me to be the man I am today.”
Erik will attend Baker College in Flint this autumn to pursue a career in orthotics and prosthetics.
On looking past his professional endeavors and focusing on the Paralympic Games and possibly representing the United States, Erik said he’s “more than willing to do it.”
“It’s a little crazy,” he added. “But I like it that way.”