Six months after a vehicle crash left him permanently paralyzed, 18-year-old Jayson Effertz returned to the court Saturday as a basketball official for the Great Bend Recreation Commission.
Although he uses a wheelchair, Effertz chooses not to let a life-changing event limit him.
Officiating is just one way for him to channel his passion for sports into an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people by teaching them about the game he loves.
But last summer, how he lived out those passions changed in an instant.
A crash changes everything
On July 22, 2020, Effertz was headed to Paradise, Kansas, making a shingle delivery for work in a Freightliner flatbed truck.
About nine miles north of Russell on U.S. 281, the truck caught a gust of wind out of the west, blowing it off the road. As Effertz tried to regain control, the front passenger tire blew after being damaged by scraping against the edge of the roadway. Effertz lost control, and the truck rolled, ejecting him out the driver’s side window.
After briefly blacking out, Effertz woke up lying in the roadway with his back in severe pain. Looking at his feet, he said, he noticed he only had one shoe on, but could not feel his feet. At this point, Effertz knew something was seriously wrong.
A bystander called 911 and the paramedics were there in a matter of minutes.
“It all seemed like it happened pretty fast,” Effertz said.
After being transported by ambulance to Russell, Effertz was life-watched by helicopter to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where he was diagnosed with a permanent spinal cord injury that left him permanently paralyzed.
The recovery process begins
After spending a month at Wesley, rarely getting out of bed due to severe pain, Effertz was transferred to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. The hospital specializes in rehabilitation from brain and spinal cord injuries.
At Craig, his road to recovery began in earnest.
Besides going through intense physical and occupational therapy programs, Effertz said he was able to participate in group activities with other teens through the hospital’s teen recovery program.
He also spent time taking part in the hospital’s school program, which allows high school students to remain on track academically while continuing the rehabilitation and recovery process.
Effertz described the teen group as “a huge family” and he is grateful for the lifelong friends he made while going through the program there.
Though the rehab process was difficult, maintaining a positive outlook on the circumstances helped him get through the process.
“As it went on, I said, ‘It is what it is. There’s a plan, and just trust it,’” he said. “And so I live day-by-day and just enjoy it and make the best out of it.”
His time there also gave new intensity to his desire pursue a career in helping others heal, as well.
Prior to the crash, in his freshman year, Effertz had fractured a growth plate in his ankle. The physical therapy he received through that process caused him to consider a career in physical therapy, an interest that only intensified in the aftermath of his July crash.
At first, he was not sure if his injury would still allow him to pursue the career, since it sometimes requires helping others walk. As with many areas of his post-accident life, though, he found ways he could pursue his passion to help others, primarily through upper-body physical therapy.
“There’s still multiple ways you can go through with it,” he said.
Returning to life
On October 21, a day short of three months following his accident, Effertz, now a senior at Great Bend High School, finally returned home.
Having been active in several sports, including football, prior to his injury, he was able to achieve a goal of returning for at least one home game to be on the sideline supporting and interacting with his teammates.
Effertz chooses not to look at himself as limited because he uses a wheelchair.
“There isn’t really anything I can’t do, it’s just everything (I’m doing) is sitting down,” he said.
He is still passionate about sports, and sees involvement in sports as a way to stay active, even if it looks a little different now.
“(I want to) stay healthy, stay involved and keep pushing forward,” he said. “You can still stay involved (even) if you’re not playing.”
He said he is still able to spend time at the Rec Center, shooting baskets with friends, but his involvement with Rec basketball goes well beyond that.
In addition, he has served as a scorekeeper and official for the youth Rec basketball program.
This season will be his third officiating Rec basketball. Teaching kids basketball through officiating, something he did even before his crash, has become an even more important way to pass on a passion for a sport he loves.
He has also spent four seasons umpiring baseball. He is not yet sure how it will work trying to do that in a wheelchair, but he would like to find a way to do that again eventually, as well.
Staying involved is key to overcoming any adversity, he said, and not just for his own sake. He sees it as an opportunity to make a difference is someone else’s life with his story.
“You can meet a lot of great people, and you can do a lot of great things,” he said. “Someone could be having a bad day, and just a simple smile (can make a difference).”
Everyone has bad days, he said, but on those days for him, advice he received during the rehab process helps him keep going.
“Whenever you think you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s still always someone who has it worse,” he said.
He said the crash also helped remind him not to take the little things in life for granted, such as the ability to walk or run.
He does not mind talking about the accident or its aftermath, and he hopes it helps others persevere through difficulty, as well, because growth comes through adversity.
“The troubles of today strengthen you for tomorrow,” he said.
Moving forward in life in the aftermath of such a life-changing event is something he tries to take day-by-day.
“I always tell people I’m like a river – I just roll with the flow,” he said.