Boys Water Polo: Oak Park players supporting injured teammate Nate Johnson
Updated: April 10, 2012 6:10PM
Oak Park-River Forest had only one match last week after returning from spring break, so members of the team spent part of Saturday visiting teammate Nate Johnson.
Johnson, a junior field player, will spend the next six weeks at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago after suffering a rare injury at the Stevenson Invitational on March 24. As he has done hundreds of times during his water polo career, Johnson jumped into the pool before a match for warmups, but felt a pain in his back this time.
“He was able to swim to get out of the pool all by himself,” said Winsome Thomas, Johnson’s mother.
But after sitting on the bench for a short time, the pain did not go away.
“He tried to walk to the team (for a huddle), but was not able to move his legs,” Thomas said.
Johnson had suffered a spinal stroke, which caused paralysis in his legs. He was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for a few weeks. Like a stroke to the brain, a spinal stroke or spinal artery syndrome occurs when there is an interruption of blood flow to the spinal cord through large vessels.
Thomas said Johnson has never complained of back problems, and doctors do not believe the injury is related to water polo. Thomas said Johnson has competed in water polo since he was 12 years old, and that he, “knows the proper technique. I have not seen Nate with this condition before.”
Johnson has begun studying via a tutoring program, and has received friends and teammates during his stay at RIC. Currently, Johnson is unable to move his left leg, but has some movement in his right leg, Thomas said.
“It is a very tough situation for everyone involved, and the entire team is behind Nate and his efforts to get better,” said first-year OPRF coach John Rapp.
Led by leading scorer Troy Williams, the Huskies are chasing undefeated Lyons Township in the West Suburban Conference.
“We have been working on cleaning up all the small mistakes that have cost us games this year,” Rapp said. “Our team has a lot of talent, but we need to focus on minimizing turnovers and making every possession for the other team hard (in order) to create good scoring opportunities. We tend to take possessions off, and when you are playing quality teams, it really makes it hard to win. I am looking for these two things.”
Mark Hallman is one of OPRF’s top players; the sophomore completed a standout season for the boys swimming team.
“Coach Rapp has done a great job,” Hallman said. “Last year, we had some issues. We were an unbalanced team in the field, and we set our expectations too high. Our expectations are lower (this season), and it has worked out.”
The Huskies (13-2) are ranked No. 9 by illpolo.com, and will compete against York (5-10) in the opening round of the Lyons Invitational, in Western Springs, at 5 p.m. Friday.
One player, senior Dylan Reynolds, would like to see a rematch in the final between OPRF and LT. Lyons Township beat OPRF 15-5 in the season opener on March 6.
“Actually, I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Reynolds said. “We’ve grown as a team since our first game. I’m not sure how we fare with them.”
Host LT (13-2) is ranked No. 2, and has suffered its only losses to the defending state champions from Illinois (Fenwick) and Missouri (Saint Louis U-High). The Huskies will play No. 3 Loyola (16-2) at 1:50 p.m. Saturday, with the winner expected to play LT or No. 13 Stevenson (10-4) in the tournament final.