The path back to the pitch a difficult one for West High School’s Marshall Harkrider

Sports

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Under an overcast April sky, a gaggle of high school boys began their warmup laps with the outline of the soccer pitch serving as their guide. As they rounded the end zone passing the football field house the applause for West High School senior Marshall Harkrider, who was waiting to be interviewed, began to emerge from the pack.

It was meant to fluster their friend and soccer teammate, though by now they know there are few things that can set him back.

The setback

The packed bags served as a tangible reminder that Harkrider’s time in Texas visiting his cousin’s ranch was over and his flight back to Knoxville was nearing. Harkrider, a sophomore at the time, was riding alongside in an ATV to return to the main house and load up into cars.

“We took a turn kind of quickly,” Marshall Harkrider recalled the December night. “It rolled over onto my leg.”

The ATV had skidded along the ground with his leg caught beneath it.

Marshall was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery before being air-flighted to Dallas Fort-Worth Hospital, the place he would call home for the next several months. Marshall had skin graphs done on his ankle and leg along with several surgeries that spanned through the early months of 2019.

“I didn’t really know the extent of my surgeries, I was in shock,” Harkrider said. “I was asking my dad if I was going to be back for soccer season.”

After months of surgeries and recovery Marshall had to choose what the next step in his journey to recovery was going to be.

“They kind of came to me with the option of having six or seven more surgeries and not playing sports again and keeping my foot or getting the amputation,” he explained. “I definitely wanted to play sports again.”

Harkrider chose to have his leg amputated.

The comeback

A high school sophomore Harkrider admittedly knew nothing about prosthetics, or amputation, aside from knowing both would be included in his path to recovery.

“After that idea was introduced to me they took me down to their amputee section of the hospital (at Scottish Rite Hospital),” he said. “They showed me what the process would look like if I did get the amputation and the timeline for everything that would pan out. That helped me a lot.”

Marshall’s had his leg amputated below the knee and immediately began working on the process of learning how to walk again.

“I was on crutches at first but I was (only) able to walk for three hours a day because I weighed 140 pounds and had no muscle at all,” he explained. “It took a lot of physical therapy to rebuild my strength.”

Marshall’s extended stay in Texas quickly came to an end, as he and his mother, Ashley, made the trek back home where he endured a year of extensive physical therapy at the Knoxville Orthopedic Center.

He went at his own pace, as admittedly it took a lot of work for the teenager to run and sprint, especially with his first prosthetic.

“It took a while to find the right type of prosthetic and figure out which would work best for my situation playing soccer,” he said. “After I got my second prosthetic I was more active and enabled because it was more sports based, it helped me progress a little bit.”

By his junior club season with Knoxville Reds FC Harkrider had made his return to the pitch.

“I think I subbed on for the last five minutes of a game and touched the ball maybe two or three times, but I did complete my first pass which was cool,” he recalled. “It was super motivating for me because I had proved to myself that I could play soccer again.”

Harkrider played limited games for West High his junior year, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in that time learned playing with a prosthetic leg was going to present changes for him on the pitch.

“The biggest difference is the ankle,” he said. “I kind of just learned that I had to use my knee more when I was turning my foot.”

Agility was another more difficult thing he had to adapt to because he couldn’t cut as quickly as the other players anymore.

“I have to know when to rest and when to run as hard as I can,” he said. “It’s become more and more natural. “

Now, a senior, Marshall has been part of every game the Rebels have had this spring season. The forward doesn’t just sub in late to games for garbage time minutes.

No.

His name is called in the starting nine.

“With his technical ability and his IQ he plays the role of a forward where he’s a scoring threat but he can dish it off and let one of his teammate’s score,” West High soccer coach Alex Walls said of his battle-tested senior. “Honestly he’s got one of the best shots on the team.”

Day by day Walls stood and watched Marshall become more comfortable and get a little more aggressive, soon enough putting him in the starting lineup felt like a no-brainer for the Rebels coach.

“I was honestly not expecting to start this year, but I’ve been playing a lot better than I thought I would especially on varsity and stuff,” Marshall said. “I feel like just going out starting with all my friends who also start is important to me. So it’s a pretty big deal for me.”

Maybe there’s an occasional limp, but when he’s running full speed Marshall is running full speed. When he’s got the ball at his feet he’s using both legs to make passes or put a shot on goal. He’s not afraid, and why should he be, he’s already had the cards stacked against him and prevailed.

“I’ve never really had the time to think about what could have been,” Marshall said. “I always wanted to get back to soccer as soon as I could so I always focused on the present rather than the past and work as hard as I could.”

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