By DAVE LINK
Marshall Harkrider knew he was hurt. He had no idea how badly.
It was Dec. 28, 2018, and Harkrider was on Christmas break during his sophomore year at West High School.
He was visiting his cousins at a ranch in Texas. It was the last day of his trip, and Harkrider was riding in an ATV.
A cousin’s friend was driving it. Harkrider was riding shotgun, in the front seat. His brother, Travis, now 13, was in a back seat.
“That was the day we were leaving the ranch,” Harkrider recalled. “We had all our stuff packed and we were taking the ATV to the ranch house to pick all our stuff up. Then we were going to head to the airport.”
They never made it that day.
“We were going around a turn too fast, and the ATV rolled over onto my right leg,” Harkrider said. “I actually didn’t fall out because there were no doors. It kind of skidded along the ground with my leg under it.”
Harkrider never lost consciousness.
“I remember it pretty well,” he said. “I didn’t pass out at all, thankfully. I didn’t know how serious it was. I was definitely bleeding quite a bit, and I was definitely in shock with a lot of adrenalin going.”
The accident changed the life of Harkrider and his family.
He had emergency surgery at a nearby hospital that day before being air-flighted to a Dallas-Fort Worth hospital.
He had skin grafts on his ankle and leg as multiple surgeries began in winter and early spring of 2019.
His mother, Ashley Harkrider, stayed at the Dallas-Fort Worth hospital with Marshall, while his father, Robert, was at their Knoxville home with Travis and a sister, Avery.
After more than a month at a Dallas-Fort Worth hospital, Marshall, an aspiring soccer player, was faced with a tough choice.
“They said I could get an amputation, or I could have like nine surgeries and never play sports again,” he said. “There wasn’t a great situation.”
Harkrider had his right foot amputated below the knee.
MAKING A COMEBACK
Before the amputation, doctors explained to Harkrider the potential for a soccer comeback with the use of a prosthetic leg.
Again, not a great situation.
“I was definitely kind of worried about it at first, but I didn’t have much of a choice,” he said.
Harkrider stayed at the Dallas-Fort Worth hospital and had prosthetic surgery. By March of 2019, about two weeks after the prosthesis was on, he was walking with crutches.
“Just getting back to running again definitely took a lot more work than walking,” Harkrider said.
He soon returned to Knoxville and began about a year of physical therapy at Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic along with personal training.
It was a long process, and Harkrider grinded through the rehabilitation.
By early spring of 2020, he was back on the soccer field and reunited with his teammates at West. He played a couple of games before the Covid-19 pandemic cancelled West’s season, then joined his club team, Knoxville Reds FC.
“I definitely kind of struggled during my first club season, but I really didn’t train very hard for it,” Harkrider said. “This season I’m pretty much full fitness and back to my full ability.”
Harkrider is naturally left-footed, and he has learned to kick with his prosthesis. In April of 2020, he also got a prosthesis allowing him to swim.
He said the biggest difference soccer-wise is not having an ankle.
“I can kick all right with it,” he said. “Long shots are harder, but I can make good passes and touches with it. It’s really not too much different anymore. It really hasn’t slowed me down that much.”
When the accident happened, news of it slowly spread back to Knoxville.
Harkrider’s friends didn’t know what to think.
“I heard the news. I heard he got in an accident,’” said Drew Whitehorn, a senior teammate at West. “I was in shock at first. I didn’t really comprehend it all.”
Whitehorn and Harkrider have been friends for years, since their days at Bearden Elementary School. They are both forwards for West’s soccer team.
“My whole family was kind of in disbelief,” Whitehorn said. “I think everybody was just in a state of confusion because it all happened so quick.”
Harkrider’s return to soccer has been amazing.
He can still kick the heck out of the soccer ball.
“He’s got one of the best shots on the team,” West coach Alex Walls said.
Walls coached Harkrider as a freshman, and like others, saw Harkrider’s drive and determination to get back to soccer after the accident.
“This year he’s come back stronger than ever,” Walls said. “I think he’s very aware of his body now, and he has his fitness and his ball skills back.
“Three years out (from the accident), it’s amazing. He’s a hard worker. Everybody is super proud of him, but I think they’re amazed at his level of play.”
Whitehorn sure is.
“It’s been incredible,” he said. “It’s been amazing to see, from an injury like that to playing varsity soccer and starting and thriving. I think it’s an inspiration to similar kids who have disabilities.”
Harkrider scored the first goal of his comeback last Friday when West beat Gallatin, 3-1.
It was a special moment for Harkrider, who plans to attend North Carolina and play intramural soccer.
“I was super excited because I hadn’t scored since my freshman year for this team,” Harkrider said. “It was huge. It was really cool to have the entire team come celebrate as well.”