Colter Barnes sidelined
Nerve damage making senior year frustrating
Colter Barnes has gotten tired of the same old questions over the past couple months.
The multi-sport, all-league performer for Madras High School had all but a couple quarters of his senior football year eliminated by a hit which is going to keep him off the court during basketball too. That hit, in the second quarter of Madras' opening game of the season, left Barnes unable to raise his right shoulder and arm. But he wanted in action enough to play a series on defense in the second half, even with his right arm ineffective.
"I keep getting asked when I'll be back, but the answer isn't going to change. I don't know," said Barnes.
His right arm suffered nerve damage, which Barnes has been dealing with as best he can. He attended some therapy sessions early but explained that the doctors he has talked with have made it clear patience is the strongest medicine for improving his chances at recovery, said Barnes.
"It gets frustrating. Two different doctors have said different things," Barnes said. "They say it's pretty rare (to have an injury like his)." He explained that some in the medical profession think surgery would give him a good chance to reattach the nerves that seem broke while others have said the use of his right arm might never return, even with surgery.
His parents have told him to think about the chances he might have to continue playing sports and other activities he enjoys. But, said Barnes, "I don't want to have them go spending all their money."
For Ron and Adelle Barnes, seeing Colter get to attend college with a chance to compete would be ideal, but just having his right arm and shoulder regain feeling is Colter's family's first goal.
Regaining Colter would be a bonus to Madras athletics.
"He scored 10 points a game and averaged eight rebounds. That alone makes not having Colter on the court make a pretty big difference," noted basketball coach Evan Brown.
But with Barnes having also finished among the team's top three in steals and assists, Brown said it will take "more than one player" stepping in to help make up for Barnes' absence this season.
There is one area in which Brown will be hoping Barnes can continue influencing the team. Barnes was often a vocal leader in encouraging his teammates and he hopes for his presence on the bench as a stimulus at most of the White Buffalos games this winter.
Getting to all the games may be a challenge for Barnes but he plans to attend most.
Working to save up money for college, even though still hoping for scholarships is a bigger focus for him now than before his injury, Barnes said.
"I'm glad I decided to keep my grades up as much as I could and not rely just on athletics," said Barnes.
By maintaining a grade point average of nearly 3.8, Barnes said, he is optimistic about earning an academic scholarship even if he can't play sports again.
"I want to go into computer engineering," said Barnes.
Because he has a brother Wes, 23, living in Kalispell, Mont., along with other relatives in the area, Barnes is seriously considering Montana State University and the University of Montana, in addition to other schools.
But Adelle admitted, in the middle of a visit she and Colter made to Oregon State and Western Oregon, with a pit stop to cheer for Culver at the 2A state volleyball tournament, that she would "like" to see Colter decide on a school closer to home.
He has enjoyed growing up in Madras enough that Colter said he does have finding a school with a similar feel as one of his main priorties in picking a college.
"The community will be a big part in where I end up going to college," said Barnes.
He is being patient about picking where he wants to continue his schooling. He has to be patient in other venues too.
"They explained to me how nerves are different from muscles," Barnes said. He said the growth rate for nerves mending can't be helped along much with therapy like the muscles around broken bones might be. Having broken his arm twice while younger, Barnes is acquainted with therapy regimens but is now in a different situation.
"You just have to be patient. It gets really frustrating, but there's nothing I can do," Barnes said.
Mending nerves grow at a rate of about a millimeter a month. It makes the process of having separated nerves repair themselves take nearly a year on its own. Additionally, there needs to be a perfect alignment for the sensations and movement to return. That is part of why Barnes might visit a facility at the University of Washington. He said that his understanding is that there are more advanced tests that might help establish a best course of action, be it waiting or surgery.
Barnes makes it clear, though, that he is ready to adapt to whatever his situation proves to be.
He said his brothers -- along with Wes, there's Shane, who lives in Bend -- were so "gung-ho" into football he wanted to have a big season this fall and felt especially frustrated when watching. His competitive nature makes him want to try something, said Barnes, even if he can't play baseball in the spring.
He said he has been golfing recreationally in the past but may try to earn a spot on the Madras team, if circumstances allow. It would be difficult to make a full swing, Barnes said, but at least he could favor his left arm.
"At first they thought (the nerve) was just stretched and could strengthen. It's not good to have a lot of motion if that happens so they had me in a sling," Barnes noted of the initial week or so his recuperation.
Now though, his dad has been looking into various things that can be done and Barnes is adjusting and preparing for whatever the future holds.
"There are people who lose their arms completely. It could be a million times worse," said Barnes. He said he was picking up ways to do some chores or skills with his left hand and arm and was managing to keep writing by just kind of "swirling" his hand around.
His teachers don't give him "much slack" Barnes said, but at least he gets some sympathy about trying to write.
The biggest frustration about his injury was the unexpected nature of the loss of mobility.
But Barnes has shown he can pull off unexpected plays in sports, so even if he winds up on the sidelines he can help.
He said his experience in helping with some Kiwanis youth sports has been fun enough that he will "definitely" be coaching at some level in the future.