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Surgery complicates football recruiting process

Growing up, Brad Markham's toe problems were always there in some capacity, but things got worse and worse as the teenager filled out his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame.

As the bones in Markham's feet and toes grew, some of the tendons did not. Those deficient tendons pulled his big toes inward and caused the toes to grow into their counterparts at nearly a 90 degree angle. As the condition persisted, the pain in Markham's feet worsened.

Dr. Kim Gauntt, a Hillsboro podiatrist, recommended surgery to remove the tendons and straighten the bones in each of Markham's big toes. Gauntt suggested doing each toe separately so Markham could get around on crutches, but having come within a half-second of breaking the Banks school record in the 800 meters the previous spring, Markham was eager to be healthy in time for track and field season.

'It was a tough decision,' said Markham's father, Mike. 'He potentially had a great track season ahead of him. But we were afraid of more permanent damage if we didn't do the surgery.'

In December of 2006, Markham underwent surgery. The ultimate success of the procedure would hinge on whether the bones in Markham's toes would fuse and continue growing after being fractured and straightened.

'I wasn't too worried at first,' Markham said. 'I figured I would be back for track season. The doctor was saying six to eight weeks [for recovery].'

Eight weeks came and went with no sign of improvement. Markham's toes were finally straight, but the bones were not responding. Every two weeks Markham returned for more x-rays and every two weeks the response was the same: the bones weren't fusing as planned.

Time whisked by. Winter became spring and spring became summer.

'We kept going in every four weeks or so, hoping for some good news. But it was always more disappointment,' Mike Markham said.

Doctors had placed both of Markham's feet in casts and ordered him to wear an electromagnetic device on his toes to stimulate bone growth. He was taking megavitamins the size of his thumb several times a day, hoping they would help the toes heal. Still, nothing.

By late May, with the track and field season already lost and football just around the corner, Markham agreed to go under the knife again.

For Markham, the second surgery was a setback. It signaled the loss of track season and also meant that a recovery in time for summer football drills was all but impossible. Having been contacted the previous fall by football coaches from BYU, Markham wondered if the delays in his recovery would also affect his college recruitment.

'I was pretty down again after the surgery,' Markham said. 'It was hard. Football had already started and I was still in a wheelchair. I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to play football again.'

The first signs of progress came in June. Markham's left toe was improving and doctors told him he could put some weight on that foot. Immediately, Markham was out of the wheelchair and fumbling around the house on crutches. Anything to regain his former lifestyle.

By July, Markham was able to put some weight on both feet but he was still using crutches to get around. Later that month, with summer football drills already started, doctors finally cleared him to begin walking on his own. He hobbled out to the car, tossed his crutches in the back seat and left them behind for good.

It was another two weeks before Markham was cleared to start running. Once he had the green light, Markham couldn't wait to break in his new feet.

'The first day I went out to the practice field and just took off,' he said. 'I ran for a while and it felt great.'

What didn't feel so great was waking up the next morning. Legs that had been confined to a wheelchair for six months and feet that hadn't supported his full body weight in over eight months were wailing in agony.

'More pain started coming into my legs. It was so bad,' Markham said. 'The whole thing was insanely difficult on my body.'

Undaunted, Markham was practicing with the football team, attending physical therapy sessions, training at Velocity and sometimes even sneaking in a late-night run around town. Whatever it took to get back in shape.

It would be almost three months before Markham regained the endurance, power and quickness that had made him a budding football star as a junior. It would be three more months before he found out if all the hard work paid off.

He was still waiting to hear from BYU.