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Fatherhood the key in Wheeler coach TR Harlan amputating his leg

Fatherhood the key in Wheeler coach TR Harlan amputating his leg

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Winning was the only thing that mattered to TR Harlan for more than two decades of coaching volleyball.

It wasn’t even the winning however, it was the need to avoid losing that drove Harlan in his rabid quest for success. That one-track mind guided him in stops at Valparaiso, Chesterton, Michigan City and now Wheeler.

While winning volleyball matches will never go out of style for Harlan, a series of life experiences over the last four years have changed what is truly important for the longtime coach.

“I always told people that I hate to lose more than I love to win,” Harlan said. “Now I don’t know if there is any differential, because either way, my kids don’t care. When I walk in the door, they still come running to me and yell ‘Daddy’ and give me a hug. That is much more rewarding than any victory or loss that I’m going to take.”

Walking through the door was always the easy part for Harlan, until it wasn’t.

Harlan met his wife, Lauren, through athletics. While Harlan was coaching on the sidelines for Chesterton or Michigan City, Lauren was working as an athletic trainer for rival Valparaiso. The two got married in 2017 and daughters Kamryn and Brynlee soon followed, as did health problems for Harlan.

A foot injury began slowing Harlan right around the time Kamryn was born in 2018. The frustrating process involved walking boots, roll carts and three IV injections per day. Harlan finally made the decision to get his big toe amputated, but the problems didn’t stop.

Brynlee was born in March 2020 and decisions needed to be made. Harlan’s foot wasn’t getting any better and doctors laid out a treatment plan that involved constant surgeries or a permanent solution that involved amputation below the left knee. It turned out to be an easy decision.

“The final decision to have the amputation really was based solely on my kids and my wife,” Harlan said. “Kamryn is going to start T-ball in July and I needed to teach her how to hit a softball. I needed to help out around the house, pick up the kids and get them going in the morning. I couldn’t do that if I couldn’t walk. That was why the decision was really an easy one for me.”

Harlan was ultimately diagnosed with Charcot foot and the surgery wasn’t without complications. Harlan spent a week at Loyola University Hospital in Chicago in February battling a MRSA infection after the amputation. Ever the competitor, Harlan was aggressive with his rehab and he set a goal to be walking with a prosthetic by the time the family took a spring break trip to Florida in March.

“I told the doctors that I’d be walking with my wife and daughters on the beach in Florida and it was up to them to make it happen,” Harlan said.

Harlan has completed the long road back and he now has a full prosthetic that has allowed him to ditch the crutches and rolling cart that have been a staple for much of the time his children have been alive. The ability to walk without crutches played a big role in making the decision to move forward with the amputation.

“I had been on crutches for literally a year,” Harlan said. “I couldn’t pick up my kids or hold them unless I was sitting on the couch. That wasn’t going to be me. I’m going to be part of their lives and I’m going to do what fathers are supposed to do. For that to happen, I needed to be able to walk.”

Harlan plans on being back on the sidelines this fall, leading the Bearcats yet again. He’ll continue to chase the victories and look to avoid the losses, but he’ll also have his eye on the stands where Kamryn and Brynlee will be cheering him on regardless of the score.

“I have become much calmer, and I think there’s been a bit of reprogramming,” Harlan said. “For the first 22 years of my coaching, the only thing I cared about was volleyball. Now it’s not the main priority in my life. When practice is over, I don’t go home and watch film for three hours. I go home and I eat dinner with my daughters.”

There will soon be another guest at the dinner party as Harlan and Lauren are expecting a baby boy in September.

Balancing fatherhood and sports

Marc Bruner knew he was missing out on his children. The former Portage girls basketball coach just didn’t realize what his children would be missing out on when he stepped away from coaching last year.

Bruner resigned from Portage following the 2019-20 season, roughly a month before the COVID-19 shutdown. He cited the need to spend more time with his family, including his two children, Belle and Camille.

“As hard as (resigning) is, it was harder to leave my own children,” Bruner told The Times last February. “I can’t just do something halfway. (Portage) has the possibility to go from good to great, and they need somebody whose heart will be there.”

Bruner loved spending more time with his children over the past year, but he found that his children were missing the chance to go to games and watch their father on the sidelines.

“I learned that my kids really like sports and they really liked watching me coach,” Bruner said. “I didn’t tell them right away when I was done coaching, but when I finally ended up doing that, they were pretty upset. I guess I didn’t realize how much they enjoyed watching and going. I tried telling tell them that I would get to spend a lot more time with them at home, but that maybe didn’t make a whole lot of sense to them. They just knew they weren’t going to go and watch anymore games. Obviously COVID played a role in that.”

The family got a taste of being back in the gym when they went to watch family friend Chris Seibert lead Crown Point to the Class 4A state title earlier this year. Watching the Bulldogs scratched the basketball itch for the family and Bruner is now set to join Seibert’s coaching staff for the 2021-22 season. As an assistant, he’ll still be doing what he loves in coaching high school athletes, but he’ll also be able to find the balance between quality home life as well.

“I realized that it wasn’t the time I was gone from home that was hard, it was the quality time when I was home,” Bruner said. “Being home was nerve-wracking at times because I felt like I couldn’t be the dad I wanted to be when I was worried about a million other things. Now I get so much joy out of watching my kids find their own love for sports.”

Belle went to a basketball camp earlier this month and Camille competed in a 6-under softball tournament on Saturday. Bruner enjoys being a fan in the stands, and as far as it goes with his daughters, that’s where he’ll always stay for their games.

“I’ve never really wanted to coach them,” Bruner said. “The relationship I have with them is to be their dad. A dad and a coach are two different people. I just enjoy watching them and if they want to continue in sports, I’ll cheer them on. It’s fun to see the excitement in their eyes.”


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Paul Oren has been a correspondent reporter for The Times since 2005. A member of the United States Basketball Writers Association, Paul has spent more than 15 years covering Valparaiso basketball.

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