In September 2010, doctors told David Horner that we would never play contact sports again — that given the severity of his injury, he was lucky to still be functional.
Less than two years later, Horner is on his way to play sports at the collegiate level.
The recent Kansas City Christian graduate’s ordeal and story of remarkable recovery began at a soccer game against Blue Vally West. Horner, playing goalkeeper, made a move to swipe up a loose ball at the same time one of the opposing players was running in toward it. In the rush to the ball, the player ended up kicking Horner — hard, in the neck.
“When I came to, I felt like everything looked darker,” he said. “But I didn’t think much of it.”
He actually finished out the game, and was more concerned with an injured knee than he was with what had happened to his head and neck. Two days later, though, Horner noticed something wasn’t right. Working on a school assignment, he found he couldn’t perform metric conversions he’d had no trouble with before. Everything started to feel surreal.
“My brain didn’t work right,” he said. “Things weren’t clicking.”
A trip to the doctor produced a shocking diagnosis: his left carotid artery, which feeds blood to the head and brain, was heavily damaged.
Doctors at St. Joseph Medical Center implanted three stents in the artery to restore more normal blood flow. They told him it might take up to a year before he started feeling normal again. But regardless of how his recovery went, he knew one thing for certain: his soccer career was over.
“I loved soccer — it was my favorite sport by far,” he said. “They told me all contact sports were out of the question. It was hard to hear.”
Horner, a gifted athlete, decided he had to find some new way to occupy himself. He’d tried out for the KCC tennis team his freshman year “just for fun,” and had played ever since, though he hadn’t given the sport his full effort. But with the encouragement of coach Kevin Braun from Homestead Country Club, Horner started to see tennis as a place where he could have real potential.
“He had good skills from the beginning,” Braun said. “And once he started to put himself into it, you could see a real talent developing.”
At first, practice was difficult. Horner could still feel the effects of the injury. After 20 minutes on the court, he would be exhausted. Gradually, though, his stamina and skills increased. By the time his senior tennis season rolled around this year, Horner was one of the team’s top players.
Braun, who played in college himself, was excited enough about Horner’s potential that he put him in touch with the coach at his alma mater, Colorado Christian University in Denver. The staff there saw something they liked, as well, and made Horner an offer to join the team. He heads to Denver this August.
“I never would have thought about playing tennis at college a couple years ago,” Horner said. “But you go with what you’ve got. This is a great opportunity.”