Brock Garland remembers every detail about March 12, 2019.
Garland was a three-sport athlete at Etowah, competing in track, football and wrestling. On that March day the sport was track, and during a practice that was otherwise routine, his task was simple — retrieve his discus.
“I looked over at (my teammate) and thought he heard me say I was walking out to pick the discus up, but he didn’t hear me,” Garland said.
He walked over to his discus, bent over, and as he picked it up he heard someone shouting his name. Instinctively, he turned around and as he did, Garland was hit by another discus right above his left eye.
The injury rapidly put his life in jeopardy.
Garland said he went into shock and was unaware of what really happened, but he knew it was serious by judging everyone’s reaction around him.
Track and field assistant coach Barry Stafford was the first to reach him and quickly supported his head to help with the bleeding while one of his teammates rushed to get the trainer. Garland said a soccer referee who happened to be near saw the accident and called 911, and football’s assistant coach Steve Sapere came to him to “make sure I was still awake and talking.”
“I was all disoriented,” he said. “My ears were ringing and I was just looking around. I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t do anything but lay there.”
Upon arriving at Kennestone Hospital, Garland was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and was rushed into emergency surgery to undergo a craniotomy — the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain — and a craniectomy — a surgery done to remove a part of the skull in order to relieve pressure in an area where the brain swells. Part of his skull needed to be replaced by a plate because of the shattering damage caused by the discus.
The surgery was successful, but the challenges were only beginning. He temporarily lost all ability to speak. Weeks of speech rehab, physical therapy and occupational therapy were in his future. Yet in Garland’s mind, the most crushing news had yet to be relayed — he said his doctor believed he would never be able to play football again.
“That really hurt me because I love this game,” Garland said. “(Football) is my favorite sport. I’d do anything to be out here and just play with (my teammates). When he (broke the news), my goal was, as soon as I could, get back out and be back with my teammates working out again.”
Using the opportunity to be around the football team as his motivation, he began rehab. His doctors told him it usually took about 2 years for someone in his situation to walk and talk again. He was in rehab for only three months.
Garland said that Sapere, his friends and family were there with him in the hospital and through rehab every day. He said he never felt alone in his recovery, and that he couldn’t have done it without them.
Because of the contact-heavy nature of football, Garland accepts that he will never pad up to play for the Eagles again. He’s still present for every practice and workout possible, helping coach the group of linebackers he used to share the field with.
“He always has great energy,” senior linebacker Lane Cantrell said. “He’s an amazing guy. I know (not playing) last year killed him, but he was right there with us. He was right there with us every day.”
Garland has fully embraced his new role at Etowah — he still sees a purpose in being with his teammates and coaches.
“I just want to come out here and help people try to find the love I find in (football),” he said.