Back in Action

When star high school athletes have a major injury, it is a devastation to the team. Most never come back. But one student wouldn’t let his injury keep him down.

Junior Henry Nolan is half of our star tennis doubles team. Nolan and his partner Steven Weeks have won the tennis state championship two years in a row. Nolan has been playing tennis since he was eight years old. He said, “I got into tennis because I had played lots of other sports but I didn’t really enjoy them. My mom had played in high school and my dad had me try it out and I have been playing ever since.

“Around four years ago my back started to hurt when I played tennis. It continually got worse until I got it checked out and found out what it was. Basically the lower wings of my vertebrae were grinding against my tail bone. The more I played, the more it broke and the more it chipped off. I tried to play through it, but eventually it became too much.”

Weeks has been playing tennis with Nolan a long time and because of this he got to see his progression first hand. He said, “When Henry and I came to Catholic, we decided to play as a team, but we had been playing in USTA and junior tournaments for five or six years. He first started to really complain about his back hurting about a year ago at a tournament in Georgia. This is when he first started to get his back checked out. Before this he had complained about his back a little bit, but I always assumed he had just pulled a muscle or something.”

Mr. Daniel Cornelison, Nolan’s tennis coach at the Racquet Club, has been coaching Nolan for seven years and got to see firsthand how bad Nolan’s injury really was. He said, “It’s really hard to tell exactly when Henry started to have problems with his back because he has such a high pain tolerance. About a year and a half to two years is when he really started hurting enough for it to interfere with his tennis.” In the years leading up to Nolan’s diagnoses, Mr. Cornelison could tell that there was definitely something wrong with Nolan. He said, “Before he was diagnosed, I could tell that he had some kind of back injury. We talked about it and talked about it with his parents as well. We just didn’t know the extent of it unfortunately.”

After months of pain, Nolan finally had his surgery in February. He said, “For three years prior to the surgery, I did physical therapy to try to delay or stop the surgery from happening. My back had been hurting for four years and before the surgery it got so bad that I couldn’t play. Afterward it hurt even worse.”

After a relatively short two-hour surgery, Nolan was back in one piece. He said, “After surgery I only had to miss a full week of school, but I didn’t go a full day for five or six weeks. I would either go just in the morning or afternoon. I didn’t get to play tennis at all for six months and I only really started playing these last couple of months. Before I started playing again, I had to go to physical therapy and try to rebuild all the muscle I lost.”

Although he was out for almost six months, Nolan has been training and recovering with Weeks all summer. Weeks said, “I think his back still hurts him a lot because his muscles are still sore and
recovering from the surgery. But he is still really good at tennis. He may be a little rusty from not playing for three or four months but other than that he is fine. He still plays basketball and tennis and all the things he did before the surgery. We play together every day and even after an hour, he is fine other than his back hurting a bit.”

Mr. Cornelison has great faith in Nolan and his ability and strength in the sport. He said, “When he came back, he hadn’t really lost much and he has gotten quite a bit better since he has come back. He is probably even better than he was because that’s the kind of kid he is, driven.”

Editor’s note: On October 24, 2017, Henry Nolan and his teammate Steven Weeks won the tennis doubles state championship for the third year in a row.

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