TERRYVILLE >> Zach Graham’s life changed forever while riding his bike to a friend’s house on a summer day two and a half years ago.
“I was picking up a lot of speed and I swerved out into the middle of the road. There was a car in front of me so I tried to race it a little bit to the house,” said Graham, now a 6-foot-5-inch senior on the Terryville High School basketball team. “A car coming at me made an unexpected turn, so to avoid the car coming at me I lost control of my bike and went head first into a tree.”
An ambulance took Graham to Waterbury Hospital, and he would later be airlifted to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. He was intubated because he had blood in his lungs. He broke his collarbone, his shoulder and had multiple head injuries. He would have a device surgically implanted to measure the pressure in his brain.
“Next thing I remember is getting wheeled out of the ICU at the Connecticut’s Children Medical Center,” he said. “That was 12 days later.”
The medical staff at the Connecticut Medical Center placed Graham into a medically induced coma because of his injuries.
“They didn’t know the extent of damage,” said Robin Graham, Zach’s mother. Robin said even though she also didn’t know how badly her son was hurt, she knew he was going to fight.
“Zach and I have a crazy connection,” Robin Graham said. “Six weeks after he was born, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went in for a mastectomy and had three months of chemotherapy. The first six months of his life, he and his brother Nick (two years old at the time) kept me going, they were my strength. When this happened to (Zach), I told him ‘this is your turn to fight, you owe me.’”
During the 12 days Zach was in a coma, the Graham family — Robin, John, Zach’s father, and Nick — lived at the Connecticut Medical Center.
Graham would be released 10 days later on his 15th birthday, after being taken out of the coma. He would then learn how to walk, talk and eat again; he also had to spend a lot of time working to recover his large motor skills.
Though Graham was able to learn everything again, he is permanently deaf in his left ear.
Because of all of the injuries, Graham would have to avoid anything with contact, meaning he wouldn’t be playing basketball that season, but he still wanted to be part of the team.
“It was terrible I remember when I found out I wouldn’t be able to play basketball, my first initial idea, I still wanted to be a part of the team. I could be a manager or something. I went to the first or second practice after the full team was assembled and I was running the scoreboard and I just remember how hard it was watching that one practice and not be able to play and be a part of it,” he said. “After that first practice I didn’t go anymore. I went home and was pretty much in tears that night. That was one of the worst nights of my life. I went there and watched all my friends play basketball and I was playing with the clock.”
He would be medically cleared in February 2012 and would play baseball that spring; he would also run cross country in fall 2012.
Graham was back on the Kangaroos come basketball season, but didn’t see the court as much.
“It was tough at first; it was like my freshman year all over again as a junior,” he said. “It was so hard I had to learn everything over again, the plays, the whole offense all over again.”
After the rough season, Graham refocused and decided the concentrate specifically on basketball.
“He told me he wanted to ‘Show them I am strong, show them I can do it,’” said Robin Graham.
It first started over the summer when he joined a gym with two of his teammates, Tyler Trillo and Jake Johnson.
“We all looked out for him, we knew he was hurt and when he missed that year, we knew he needed help getting back he couldn’t do it alone,” said Johnson, a Kangaroos’ who lives down the block from Graham. “We brought him to the gym, we played basketball with him and we worked out with him.”
Trillo, who lives across town from Graham, would make the drive to get him and take him to Bristol to work out.
“We hang out all the time, go to the gym it’s just that when that happened, we were devastated. We wanted to help him get back on the team,” said Trillo. “We wanted him to go. We know he’s a hard worker and he loves basketball.”
The working out didn’t stop when the school year began this September. Graham chose not to run cross country so he could play in a fall basketball league with Johnson and Trillo.
Terryville’s head coach Mark Fowler has seen a big difference in Graham’s game and because of all the hard work Graham has put in, he knows he can push him to get better.
“His confidence has grown, his desire and strength to get into the paint where he belongs and do some work and do some damage has really come alive,” said Fowler. “I know the change that Zach has had this past year is that he wants to be pushed, he wants to be a part of it, a real part of it and if he’s not doing it he wants me to get on him, because he does want to. He has an unbelievable desire this year, his whole demeanor has changed. When you have someone that really has great desire they want to be pushed they want to be challenged and Zach keeps rising to it each time.”
The Kangaroos are off to an impressive start, standing at 10-1 overall and 9-0 in the Berkshire League. Along with Trillo and Johnson, junior Shea Tracy completes the “Big 3” that have led the Kangaroos scoring attack.
Graham, the team’s starting center, hasn’t been asked to do a lot of scoring, the ; he is averaging 4.7 points a game, but as the second half of the season is approaching Fowler expects Graham to be a force to be reckoned with.
“On the offensive end, when you plant a guy on the block like Zach, you can’t say we’re going to close out and leave the paint open with Trillo, Johnson and Tracy there on the perimeter because Zach can put the ball in the basket,” said Fowler. “There are going to games when he doesn’t, when they Big 3 get their points and I think as we hit the second half when teams focus on them more you will see some damage done by Zach.”
Whether Graham becomes a dominate player or not, Robin Graham is just happy to see her son out running on the court.
“My whole belly gets a crazy feeling,” she said. “I always say ‘two and half years ago he might not live and look at him now.’”