Zach Kotecki was looking forward to great school year when he walked into the gym at Illinois Lutheran High School on Aug. 23, 2010. He was there for an early morning workout, running in the gym, when he suddenly couldn't stop.
The rest almost ended his career and could have ended his young life.
"The floor was sticky from the wax and my feet got stuck, but my body went forward," Kotecki recalled. "I tried to get my hands out in front to stop me, but I wasn't fast enough."
Kotecki went head first into the wall and fell down, breaking his neck.
"I got up, then I fell down again," he said. "I had to lie still and they took me to the hospital in Chicago Heights (Franciscan St. James Health). I knew something bad had happened because I heard something snap."
He was taken the University of Chicago hospital for further testing. His mom Kim said it was hard to believe.
"At first, the testing was a precaution and then the neurosurgeon tells us what happened," Kim Kotecki said. "I remember them taking him by ambulance to Chicago. As a mom, you don't know the feeling that your son could be paralyzed."
Kotecki had to wear a neck brace and eventually healed, though he has not played basketball at all since and played just a part of his junior baseball season. This year, the second baseman is a big part of Illinois Lutheran winning its third regional title in four years and will face North Shore Country Day at 6 p.m. Thursday in one semifinal of the Class 1A Putnam County Sectional.
"We are very proud of Zach and very fortunate," Kim Kotecki said. "Our faith played a huge part in us being able to get through all of it. We thank God that he is OK and is playing sports and enjoying himself."
Kotecki still has to be careful about contact, which is why doctors would not let him play basketball.
"First of all, I am just glad I can play baseball and enjoy sports," Kotecki said. "Sure, when I am running, I think a little about if I collide with someone, but at the same time, I do not let it bother me. I go out there and play the game."
Chargers coach Mark Kjenstad said Kotecki has been solid at second base and at the plate.
"I am just glad he is not paralyzed," Kjenstad said. "It's tough when you see a young man go through what he did, but he wanted to play and he has been a big part of our success."