POULSBO — Instead of a Corvette, Ty Hildebrand got a ride on the trainer’s cart.
Instead of a crown, he got crutches.
And instead of a triumphant evening at the dance, he went home.
For Hildebrand, the NKHS tight end who was elected this year’s homecoming king, September 28 wasn’t much of a homecoming. But months after sustaining a serious knee injury in the first half of the homecoming game, Hildebrand has come back to make a mark on a second sport — track.
Hildebrand had been excited for the game against Gig Harbor. That morning he had been elected homecoming king, and during halftime, he would circle the track in the back of a Corvette, waving and hollering at the stands crowded with people.
“I was pretty jazzed up for it. I was ready,” Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand’s first play in the game began successfully as he caught a pass from and began charging upfield. But it took only a few steps, and a Gig Harbor defender, to end both the play and Hildebrand’s season. The defender dove into Hildebrand to prevent him from chugging towards the end zone, and landed at Hildebrand’s left knee.
But when Hildebrand’s knee popped, then grew numb, then wobbled as he first stood, he knew his night was over.
So was his football season.
The hit had torn Hildebrand’s left ACL. He had torn the meniscus around his knee. He had bone bruising — blood seeping into the bone — and tendon damage.
He watched the rest of the game on crutches, but was sent home before the dance.
“It was the homecoming game, but I didn’t get to ride in my Corvette,” Hildebrand said. “I could have worn my crown and everything.”
A ceremony was held the following morning to give Hildebrand his crown.
On Dec. 22, he had surgery to replace the ACL; he remembers the pre-surgery team writing “yes” on his left leg, the one that needed surgery, and “no” on the right.
The last half of the football season had already been erased by the injury; so was the basketball season, where Hildebrand had played backup power forward the previous season.
As his rehab began, he eyed track, instead.
“I wanted to come back for track,” he said, “but they said it wasn’t probable.”
Hildebrand began rehab soon after leaving surgery at Harrison Hospital.
A machine would bend his knee, stretching Hildebrand’s range of motion; the slightest motions made his leg throb with pain.
Two weeks after the surgery, the rehab continued with Ron Mimaki at Kitsap Physical Therapy in Poulsbo.
“It was tough,” said Hildebrand. “You couldn’t use muscles you normally would use to get out of bed.”
So Hildebrand started slow, raising his leg with no weight on it.
“It’s so painful, you just want to quit,” he said.
Mimaki said Hildebrand was diligent and positive about his workouts.
Mimaki said the only thing he had to caution the high-school senior about was not to push the workout too hard, something that can compromise the body while it’s still healing.
“The biggest challenge, especially for Ty, is to hold them back,” Mimaki said. “The pain is minimal, the range of motion is coming back; but you can only push mother nature so far.”
Hildebrand’s recovery went quickly, a recovery he praises both Mimaki and his surgeon for.
It went so well he made it back to the field for track.
Hildebrand has claimed first place in the shot put three times, and second once; he also grabbed second place in discus for the Bremerton dual meet. He is about one foot away from his personal best in last year’s shot put.
The rehab continues; Hildebrand has been working with the North Kitsap athletic training program to get stronger, and he is making progress every day.
“It’s been a long road,” Hildebrand said. “I’m just now getting confident.”