Paul Valencia: Veltkamp made comeback of his own

Commentary: Paul Valencia

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

David Veltkamp was told it would take up to six months to completely heal from his injuries sustained in a car crash when his vehicle was T-boned by a drunk driver.

Of course, that healing process would probably benefit from a little rest.

Rest? Rest? What’s that to an athlete during his senior year?

Veltkamp did not have time for a break. He had to get back on the basketball court, to play in the state tournament with his King’s Way Christian High School teammates.

The following week, he had to be on the baseball field, with his Hudson’s Bay teammates.

Veltkamp still deals with the pain from the incident in late February. A lot of physical therapy and ibuprofen have made his go-go-go lifestyle bearable. And because his activities did not make his injuries any worse, he has no regrets about returning to sports so soon.

“It made me think life is really short. You shouldn’t be wasting it,” Veltkamp said.

He spent a Saturday and Sunday in the hospital. He was back at basketball practice by Tuesday and playing in the state tournament by Thursday.

He had to wear a special sleeve to protect the stitches on his left elbow. He had more cuts on his face, shoulder and back. He strained a muscle in his chest -- the injury that still bothers him today, especially when throwing a baseball.

Oh, he’s a pitcher. So throwing a baseball is kind of important.

And, yes, he knows he is fortunate. Some call it lucky. Veltkamp says he had help.

“I wouldn’t really be here if God didn’t have a hand in it,” Veltkamp said. “The guy was probably going 45-50 miles per hour. He was drinking and he had his headlights off.”

It should have been a celebratory time for Veltkamp. He and his King’s Way teammates won a Class 1B regional playoff game in the Seattle area to advance to state. He rode back to school with his parents, Bruce and Debbie, to pick up his car. Before leaving the parking lot, he texted his girlfriend to let her know he was back in Vancouver, safe.

Then he figured it would be the usual, easy drive home.

“I looked both ways. It was clear. I started turning. Boom. I just got hit. I blacked out a couple times, but I remember the firemen pulling me out. One of them said, ‘Wow. This guy’s a long one,’” Veltkamp said, referring to his 6-foot, 2-inch frame.

His basketball teammates visited him in the hospital. His baseball coach, Ben McGrew, showed up, too.

Veltkamp attends King’s Way but because the private school does not have a baseball program, he is allowed to play for his public school’s program.

From his hospital room, Veltkamp wondered if he would be able to participate at state. It was, after all, less than a week away.

He was reminded that one of his teammates had played football on the day he rolled his truck.

“My coach was like, ‘I’ll give you two days,’” Veltkamp recalled.

He made the mark, even if it was not an easy transition from hospital bed to basketball drills.

“I was getting really winded really early. And nobody wanted to go hard against me. They didn’t want to hit me,” Veltkamp said. “It was a struggle.”

But it was all worth it to play at state. Veltkamp scored six points in King’s Way quarterfinal victory in Spokane. King’s Way would lose the next two games and brought up the fifth-place trophy.

“It was really special,” Veltkamp said. “It was a really cool experience.”

Baseball is his main sport. And while it was amazing to return so soon to such a high endurance sport such as basketball, it took longer to get into baseball form. The throwing motion was almost too much for Veltkamp to endure.

But he did endure. He promised himself he would play his final year of high school.

A few games into the season, he found himself on the mound.

“I didn’t feel good at all,” he said. “I got hit pretty handily. It screwed up my ERA.”

Well, it might not have been a perfect ending, baseball-wise. But it sure was close to perfect coming from the perspective of someone who could have suffered more severe injuries, who could have lost everything.

“I was just happy to be out there, having a chance to be out there on the mound again,” Veltkamp said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to.”

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valenciacolumbian.com.