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Jack Schrader of Amherst soccer champ after near death

COURTESY RICH SCHRADER
Jack Schrader, right, competes against Ludlow in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament championship Sunday. Schrader overcame sever injuries as a freshman to return to soccer and contribute for the Hurricanes, who won their first-ever sectional title with a win over the Lions.

COURTESY RICH SCHRADER Jack Schrader, right, competes against Ludlow in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament championship Sunday. Schrader overcame sever injuries as a freshman to return to soccer and contribute for the Hurricanes, who won their first-ever sectional title with a win over the Lions. Purchase photo reprints »

Schrader, the Hurricanes’ senior defender, suffered severe injuries to his stomach, intestines and pancreas after a hard collision as a freshman during a junior varsity game at East Longmeadow on Oct. 22, 2009.

“I remember it pretty vividly, probably because it was a pretty traumatizing experience,” Jack Schrader said. “It was a free kick and the (goalkeeper) and I were both running for the ball. I was at full speed and we both went up for the ball. He lifted up his knee to get higher and I got hit hard in the stomach with the knee.”

Schrader had trouble breathing for a while and eventually got sick when an ambulance was called. From the field to the emergency room at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Schrader guesses he vomited nine or 10 times.

“Then, when I was in the ER, I threw up blood and that’s when they knew something was really wrong,” Schrader said.

Meanwhile, Schrader’s parents, Rich Schrader and Diane Berg, who were not at the game, had received a phone call to get to the hospital. There they waited eight hours as their son, then 14 years old, had surgery to remove half his stomach and repair the pancreas and small intestine.

“That was the longest night of any of our lives,” Rich Schrader said. “It really freaked us out. It was the worst night of my life, for sure.”

Jack Schrader got through the surgery and spent the next two weeks in recovery and several months in rehab. Early on, there was some question whether he would be able to play sports again.

He eventually played in a recreation basketball league that winter and felt better than expected.

“That was when I starting feeling that this wasn’t probably going to be a problem for me,” said Schrader, who sports a 7- to 8-inch surgical scar from his belly button to his chest. “I love soccer and I didn’t want one crazy experience to define how I looked at the sport and whether I could still play it.”

His parents, understandably, were a bit more wary about Schrader returning to the pitch.

“There was total hesitation on my part and my wife’s part, but it was Jack’s decision at the end of the day,” Rich Schrader said. “But I gave him my opinion. It was very tough to watch him the first year and, to be honest, it still is hard sometimes.”

Schrader played baseball that spring and then made the varsity soccer team as a sophomore.

“When soccer season came around, the biggest problem was getting back into shape,” Jack Schrader said. “I missed the rest of (the 2009) season and then baseball isn’t the same thing. Psychologically, I really felt fine. I was excited to have a chance to possibly make the varsity team and just to get back on the field. I don’t think I was any more timid than I would have otherwise been.”

Schrader watched from the sidelines as that team reached the western Massachusetts final and then lost to Ludlow on penalty kicks.

“I didn’t play much, but I got really close to that team,” Jack Schrader said. Losing that game “was an emotional experience because of everything that had happened to me in just over a year.”

He gained more playing time as a junior and then emerged as a part of the team’s standout defense as a senior this season. The unit has posted six shutouts in its last seven games and has not allowed a goal in the postseason, including a 0-0 title game against Ludlow Sunday. The team advanced on penalty kicks, 7-6, for its first-ever Western Massachusetts Division 1 title.

After the big team celebration and photo ops with the trophy, Schrader headed over to his family.

“I wanted to share the moment with (my parents) because they’ve been so supportive and the second I reached them, I just broke down,” Jack Schrader said. “I understand the intensity of how close to death I was. Very few people go through something like that and understand what that’s like.”

Rich Schrader said, “He gave us a big hug and the emotions were overwhelming. To go on this journey from the hospital to the western Mass. championship, it was very emotional for our family.”

Amherst returns to action in the state semifinals at 7 tonight against Leominster at Nashoba Regional in Bolton.

Jack Schrader hasn’t spent much time talking to anyone about his ordeal and what it was like to realize that he almost died. When it was time to write a college essay — he has applied early decision to Wesleyan — Schrader gained some perspective on how it has shaped his life.

“I think this has really defined me and that I view the world differently, probably in a better way,” he said. “I wrote the essay about how I took this horrible event and made it into an optimistic thing. I see everything in a better light. I enjoy things more because I went through this horrific experience and survived it.

“I think I’m just happy I’m alive.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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