By Shelby Stewart
Goodrich-Reilly Shellenbarger’s race has been both difficult and lengthy.
But on Thursday afternoon, Shellenbarger a high school junior completed more than the 800 meters in the first leg of the 4-by-800 meter relay in a
dual meet with Mt. Morris and Montrose.
On July 5, 2017 Reilly was travelling across northern Michigan when he was t-boned by a semi truck at the intersection of M-37 and West 16 Road near Mesick, Mich. in Wexford County. He was first transported to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City then by air to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. The head injury required three surgeries over the next months including one immediately after his accident, then another to put the part of his skull back in that had been damaged, then in December his body was rejecting the treatments prompting a third surgery to have a titanium mesh implanted.
Though Reilly doesn’t remember much of the day of the accident, or much of his time in the hospital, his father Scott does, including when he first woke up a week-long comma following the accident.
“Reilly’s first words were ‘Hi, Dad’,” recalled Scott. “Now parts of memory are coming back to him all the time.”
Reilly recalls part of the day of his accident, which even his father hadn’t known.
“I remembered a small section of the drive that day,” he said. “I’d never been down that way before, it wasn’t familiar. I
remember being in pain the first month of being in the hospital, the pressure in my head building up.”
When Reilly first started his physical therapy, Scott said they prepared him for the worst—including walking with a cane. But the 17-year-old left there without assistance as a matter of fact Scott says he ran out of there, excited to go back home.
Part of Reilly’s recovery included a stint at Mary Freebed hospital in Grand Rapids. While receiving treatment there Goodrich Track Coaches Jennifer Sweet and Al Warden visited him.
“I handed him the baton he carried in the last 4-by-800 meter relay at the end of the 2016 track season,” said Sweet, a track coach for more than 30 years. “Al and I thought how fitting it would be for Reilly to carry that (baton) when he returns for the 2018 season. At the time he was working hard
to process the information. I gave him the baton for him to keep and to remind him to keep pushing forward. He certainly did.”
So on a cool sunny Thursday afternoon, with dad and teammates watching at the Goodrich High School track, Reilly arrived with his track gear—including the baton.
“Usually I’m in front of it all,” said Reilly. “I can’t wait to be back up in front. Seeing teammates in the spot I should be is hard. I know I’ll get them, I’ll be beating them. I tell them to be happy now because you won’t be able to beat me for long. They’re all really supportive. They’re always asking how I’m doing, they’re still trying to get used to me being back to my normal self instead of being fragile.”
The race went well for Reilly, said Sweet.
“He will always strive to do better,” she said. “He knows where he’s gong and no one is going to out work Reilly. No one. He knows where he used to be—but at the same time, he’s going to get his new goals.”
Before his accident, his goal was to beat his father’s mile time, which was 4 minutes and 32 seconds. He was getting close with a time of 4 minutes and 40 seconds mile before the accident.
“I know I can do it, I just don’t know if it’ll be this spring,” laughed Reilly. “Next spring for sure.” .
The road to recovery continues for Reilly.
“He has a very high goal,” said Scott. “The doctors and physical therapists are trying to keep him realistic.”
Reilly gets tired a bit easier now, and if he pushes himself his vision may blur or double. He says sign posts can start to look like people and it can be hard to differentiate.