Gray overcomes injury hurdles, eyes strong finish

Andrew Gray laid helplessly on the Newport High School football field in September.

Andrew Gray laid helplessly on the Newport High School football field in September.

Writhing in pain, the Skyline senior clutched his left knee left with one agonizing thought: Not again.

“It took me about five seconds, and the first thing I thought of was that I’m not going to do track. I’m not going to be able to run,” Gray said.

A starting wide receiver on the Skyline football team, Gray’s true passion was always track and field — specifically hurdling. Injuries, however, have hampered his entire high school running career. As a freshman, during his first race, Gray suffered an unfortunate accident running in lane eight.

“I was going over the last hurdle and I kind of screwed up my last steps and hit the hurdle with my lead leg,” he said. “It twisted and my spike just went right into the ground, and my knee just kept going.”

The misstep resulted in a torn ACL and torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, which forced him to miss his entire freshman season. The pain carried over to his sophomore season, when he ran every race with a three-pound brace on his leg. Finally, his junior year, things started to come around for Gray. He stayed healthy the entire season, earning a fifth-place finish in 110 hurdles at the 3A state meet. The jump from KingCo 3A prelims as a sophomore to being one of the top five hurdlers in the state as a junior was a tremendous feat for Gray.

“It felt great,” he said. “It was more than just kind of a personal victory for me. It was kind of giving credit to my coaches and my trainer.”

But all that hard work nearly came crashing down Sept. 14, 2007.

While blocking on a running play in Skyline’s third football game, Gray fell victim to a freak accident. Tied up with a defender, Gray was blindsided when Tom Swanson, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound teammate, accidently rolled into his knee. The impact tore the ACL and dislocated Gray’s left knee — the healthy one.

“It was a real bad deal,” said Nick Lombardo, head boys track coach and assistant football coach. “We all saw him go down. We went ‘Aw man, is that the same knee? What knee is that?’”

Gray’s initial thoughts weren’t good either.

“I thought my season was over and I wasn’t going to go anywhere,” he said.

Those ideas were quickly erased, however. Gray’s parents got him an MRI immediately, and within 10 days he had surgery to repair the torn ACL. Gray’s trainer, Bo McNair, had him working out in the pool three to four times a week and going to therapy two to three times a week. By December, Gray’s hard work brought him back to the track for the first time.

“After that I had new sense of accomplishment when I actually got to come back out here and start moving faster and faster,” he said.

The return came as no surprise to others.

“He was always real positive about it,” Lombardo said. “So in the back of my mind, I was always very hopeful.”

Senior Blake Springer, who has competed with and against Gray since the sixth grade and takes handoffs from him on the 400 relay team, said no one on the team works harder.

“He’s put in a lot of extra work that other people don’t do,” Springer said. “He’s here after practice working on hurdles and just putting in the extra effort, and that’s how he got back to pretty high-performing abilities.”

All the hard work has paid dividends. Gray, who is a captain on this year’s team, currently has the fastest time in the KingCo in the 110 high hurdles at 15.3 seconds, and is ranked No. 3 in the state. He is also ranked in the top two for the 300 hurdles in league and is ranked just outside of the top 10 for the state. Along with the individual races, he runs the second leg of the 400 meter relay, which currently is the fastest in the KingCo 3A with a 44.34.

Gray, who is weighing options of running at Western Washington University and Eastern Washington University next year, has several goals to reach by the end of his high school career. He would like to get as close to where he was last year at state, whether that’s matching his fifth place finish or higher. He also hopes to help the 400 relay team into the state finals, which it narrowly missed out on last year.

But Gray’s careful not to get too far ahead of himself. He said the past is always there to remind him that he needs to enjoy the moment.

“It just pushes me and it makes me know that I need to keep going. I need to keep pushing, because something like that can happen in a second and it can ruin a lot of things,” he said. “I’m just lucky that it didn’t ruin things for me. It just delayed them.”