The Southeast Whitfield Duals on Nov. 11, 2017, marked the beginning of a new season for the Cartersville High wrestling team.
The team did well, and at 170 pounds, senior wrestler Garrett Geros went 3-2.
His record and results that Saturday were penciled into the scoresheet with the other 13 wrestlers in the lineup — possibly with notes like: “major decision,” “minor decision,” “fall,” and scores for the corresponding matches.
Inevitably, there were no columns on the scoresheet for the most important categories — adversity overcome and tears shed.
Had those been tracked that day, Geros would have been undefeated.
It was Geros’ first tournament since a near-fatal car wreck and a below-knee amputation on his left leg. And given the roughly 17 months of dealing with stages of grief from the ramifications of his unfortunate circumstance, Geros could have gone 0-5 and still won the day.
Life After the Pin
A wrestler in the process of getting pinned is in a powerless position. He loses control of his limbs, immobilized while isolated within the ring — no teammates or coaches to break him out of the bind.
Those brief moments before the pin can be revealing. With the shoulders nearing the ground and the referee’s count imminent, a wrestler often chooses to succumb to the pain, give in to the debilitating lack of control, and accept defeat.
On the mat, however, there is always a referee to stop the match, to slap his hand down in a grand gesture of mercy and signal the fallen wrestler will live to fight another day and wrestle another match.
There is life after the pin.
However, when Geros was pinned inside his mangled pickup truck on Mission Road the night of June 2, 2016, it seemed like there would be no two-second count, no more matches after the fall.
Geros had been at a friend’s house and went back home to pick up some cash to go eat at Cheeseburger Bobby’s. On his way back to his friend’s, he decided to try a new route and turn on Mission Road instead of traveling his usual way down Sugar Valley.
Geros can’t remember why or how he went off the road and struck the tree, but he recalls being entrapped in his 2002 Toyota Tundra pickup, waiting for rescue just a few miles from his home.
“I remember screaming for my dad,” Geros said, “just yelling for help in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know if anybody was going to come for me.”
He was trapped, powerless, scared and in pain — but, this time, there was no referee to whistle the match dead.
Instead, Geros waited nearly an hour and a half to be broken out of the truck. It had been well past the “golden hour,” or the first hour after a traumatic injury, considered to be the most crucial time for treatment in an emergency situation.
Finally, when the accident was discovered and paramedics arrived, his father, Dave, held a spotlight over the vehicle to help firefighters use the jaws of life to extricate Garrett out of the truck.
“I was talking to him and he was awake,” Dave Geros said. “I didn’t think anything of it, but then I looked down and his foot broke off, and I knew we were probably not going to save his foot. His femur was sticking out through his leg, but we were communicating.”
Geros was then airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital’s trauma center, where he would spend the next three days before regaining cognizance and the next month before coming home.
“The first question I asked the doctor was, ‘Are you going to be able to save his foot?’” Dave said. “And he said, ‘Right now, you need to wonder if I’m going to save his life.’”
Garrett broke his fibula, tibia, femur and tore his meniscus on his “good leg” on the right side. He will spend the rest of his life without his left foot, but all things considered, the Geroses are just happy there would be life after the pin.
“It was a long, tough battle,” Dave Geros said. “We spent the whole summer in the hospital.”
Stages of Grief
Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief theory has provided a template to mental health professionals in treating multiple forms of grief.
The first stage is denial.
When Garrett’s breathing tube was removed days after being admitted into the ICU, he asked his father if he could still play sports. Dave Geros’ response was, “Of course you can.”
There were pictures posted on social media of friends visiting Garrett in the hospital with an ear-to-ear smile, and there was talk of an advanced prosthetic that would allow him to return to football and wrestling sooner rather than later.
The next stages of grief are anger and depression, and they were emotions that consumed Garrett during a long, arduous recovery.
“Depression hit real hard — not really after [a doctor] told me [the foot was amputated], because I thought I was going to be able to get back out there,” Garrett said. “But then I realized, when I started walking, running, it was so much different. I couldn’t do the same things I used to.”
Always a competitor on the mat, that anger manifested itself in arguments at home without the athletic outlet as a release.
That frustration reached new levels during the next school year. After missing all of football and most of his junior wrestling season, Garrett was scheduled to finally get on the mat on senior night at Cartersville High in late January 2017.
Forty-five minutes before he was supposed to wrestle, however, his doctor called Dave and told him Garrett couldn’t.
Ironically, his absence was due to a broken wrist suffered during a skateboarding accident 2 1/2 years earlier that had not yet healed. The injury was unrelated to the car accident, except for that Garrett was supposed to have surgery on the wrist about one week before he wrecked on Mission Road. For obvious reasons, the wrist surgery was delayed after the accident.
Garrett had friends planning to come to the senior night meet, which was a series of intrasquad matches. The event would serve as a mere tune-up for the area traditional tournament, but Garrett’s return was headlining the proceedings.
“[Garrett] asked if he was good to go. ... I couldn’t get ahold of [the doctor], so I said, ‘Yeah, you’re good. Go ahead and wrestle,’” Dave said. “Literally, 45 minutes before he was going to take the mat, the doctor called back and said ‘Do not let him wrestle.’ He said if he messes that up, we have to start from ground zero.”
It was a costly delay. Not only did Garrett miss his last chance to wrestle as a junior, but he would have to wait another eight months to resume the sport he had competed in since he was 8 years old.
Upon receiving word that he would miss the last match of the year, there were tears. And without the outlet for the anger, the only thing left to do was to act out, throwing his headphones to the ground and breaking them.
“That was real frustrating,” Garrett said. “I was so excited. Everyone was going to come and watch me. And when I heard that news, I got so mad.”
The frustration came to a head during football season, when it became clear Garrett was not going to be able to return to form. He struggled with the drills with his prosthetic during summer workouts, and midway through the fall season, he decided to move on to wrestling.
For Dave, a national champion on the gridiron during his playing days at Georgia Southern, his son leaving the football team was bitter sweet.
“That was tough,” Dave said. “I knew it was football [causing the depression], but we couldn’t tell him to quit.
“He just couldn’t physically do what he used to be able to do. Of course, that was frustrating. And, finally, I went out there to watch him, and when he was sitting on the other end of the field, I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He comes walking off with a tear in his eye, and said, ‘Dad, I’m done.’”
Acceptance and Hope
The final stage of grief, acceptance, came with wrestling season. Dave credits leaving football with Garrett’s turnaround.
It would have been enough for the Geroses to just see Garrett back on the mat, regardless of whether he won or lost. Shockingly, Garrett has earned a spot in the varsity lineup at 170 pounds, and has consistently posted a winning record in every tournament.
“I never dreamed that, his first tournament, he was going to be 3-2,” Cartersville wrestling coach Garvin Edwards said. “He’s done extremely well. He placed second at the Union County tournament, placed fourth at the [East Hall traditional] tournament.
“We thought it was going to take time for him to win his first match. Not that you question the kid’s character, but you just think, dealing with this, how long is it going to take to get adjusted to his body, learn what works and what doesn’t work, and actually have some success.”
Garrett was a strong wrestler before the injury, and was in the varsity lineup as a freshman and sophomore. As a senior, he was challenged multiple times and has had to wrestle off with 170-pound teammates to retain his spot in the lineup, and won each challenge.
“He tilts and turns and gets those points and racks them up,” Edwards said. “He’s a good wrestler. You get the perception he’s not when you see him out there with the obvious limitations. But he’s a good wrestler.”
Garrett has had to learn a whole new style, though. There are certain moves he used to perform on one side that he can’t do anymore without a left foot to push off of. He’s had to stay low and is taking more punishment now because of the new technique he’s picked up out of necessity.
“He spends a lot of time on his hands and knees,” Cartersville assistant coach Rick Poe said. “Obviously, he has to because he can’t stand up. They’ll just knock him over. ... It’s just trial and error. He finds himself in that scramble a lot. He’s finding out how to get out the back door. ... He has to be able to take that abuse, because he’s not going to get in before the guy knows it’s coming. He just gets so low underneath, and he’s going to fight to bring it in to finish.”
The toughness and resiliency Garrett needs to succeed on the mat is nothing compared to the fortitude he needed to survive the wreck on Mission Road or brave the long road to recovery from his injuries.
In fact, Dave believes the hardship Garrett has had to overcome has been a blessing in disguise.
“In a lot of different ways, he’s grown up tremendously,” Dave said of his son. “He’s just gotten closer to God. His maturity took a new level. Even his teachers at school see it.
“I guess it kind of puts things in perspective when something that catastrophic happens. It sets a whole new mindset of what’s important in life and what’s not.”
An avid snowboarder, Garrett hopes to someday compete in the paralympics. He has already made a connection with an athlete in the games through his prosthetic doctor, and plans to move out to Colorado after he graduates from Cartersville in the spring.
For now, he is enjoying his senior wrestling season and the newfound success he’s had. The area traditional tournament is approaching, and it was once a goal of Garrett’s to make sectionals and advance to the state championship meet. Now, he’s just happy to be out on the mat, and Dave scoffs at the notion his son making it to state is important at all.
Of course, it is difficult to think about wrestling success when just 19 months ago, Dave was holding a light over the disfigured Toyota pickup truck while his son was fighting for his life on Mission Road.
“It was a tough experience. What always gets me is what could have been, but we try not to think about what could have been. We try to think about what we’ve got and where we’re going,” Dave said. “I never expected him to win one wrestling match. I told him, ... ‘You being out there is a win. You just being on that mat with what you’ve been through in this short amount of time is a win.’”
“What I’m most proud of is the positive attitude he’s gone about his business with — not feeling sorry for himself, not playing the victim,” Edwards said. “He’s come a long way, and it took a little time. ... I talk to him daily, and I tell him, ‘Everything you do now is a life lesson on how to get back up off the ground.’ He’s using that situation to become a better man. So, now, he’s really improving himself as a person. He’s improving his quality of life.”