When Bryce Souza crossed the finish line of the 4x100 relay at the sectional meet he not only helped secure a spot at the state meet for his fellow Turlock High relay teammates but accomplished a feat that seemed highly unlikely a year ago when an injury looked to sideline his athletic ambitions indefinitely.
In early 2017, Souza, 18, of Turlock was asked to sub in at a volleyball game when another player wasn’t available. During one particular play Souza made a dive for the ball and came down on his knee and felt an ominous pain radiate outward.
“I tried to stand up but couldn’t even straighten my leg,” Souza said.
First came the scans at Emanuel Medical Center’s Emergency Department, then came the bad news.
“When they pulled up the scans, his knee looked like a firework had went off,” said Patty Hendrix, Souza’s mother.
“Bryce suffered a nasty kneecap fracture requiring complex fixation,” said EMC Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Patrick Guerrero. “He was extremely bummed after seeing the X-rays, thinking his high school athletic career was over.”
Some kneecap fractures can be healed with time and a cast, but when the injury separates the pieces of bone, as it did in Souza’s case, the only option to make any kind of recovery is to have surgery. This type of break also poses more obstacles toward a full recovery because the thigh muscles can pull the broken pieces apart again during the healing process.
After Dr. Guerrero successfully reset the kneecap, the work of healing fell to Souza and his physical therapists.
“After my surgery, I had to stay off my leg for six weeks. My muscles were just not the same and therapy was really tough,” Souza said.
Souza had been holding out hope he would be able to return to the Turlock High basketball team, but his first visit to the court was an eye-opening experience.
“When basketball season rolled around, I went to open gym to practice,” Souza said. “When I ran, I had a super bad limp and I was favoring my good leg over my injured leg. I quit shortly after because I didn’t feel like I would be useful to the team.”
Souza, however, was not deterred and realized if he was going to get back to competing, he would have to put his focus on another sport entirely. He knew running would be the challenge so why not face it head on by setting his sights on making the track team in the spring.
“I really pushed myself mentally,” Souza said. I knew I could do it, I just couldn’t think about it,” he said. “My knee would hurt, but I just dealt with it and kept pushing myself.”
That strategy proved to be successful for Souza as he earned a spot on the team as a high jumper and a sprinter in the 100 and 200-meter races. When coaches and team members noticed his natural speed and strength, Souza was recruited to join the 4x100 relay team as the anchor runner.
It was a fortuitous move for Souza and the team. Throughout the season, the relay team broke eight school records, won the section finals and qualified for the state tournament.
“When we were waiting for the race to start [at state], I was thinking, ‘Wow, I am not supposed to be here right now,” Souza said. “I was just looking around at everyone else. No one else had this scar that I have. No one else went through this journey that I did to get here.”
The 4x100 meter relay team, with Souza as the
anchor, placed eleventh at the state tournament.
“I received amazing support from my coaches, teammates, family and friends. Without them, there would be no records or anything. They were always there to bring me up when I was down and they also pushed me like no one else,” Souza said. “I guess you could say I lucked out with these people by my side.”
Souza plans to attend Modesto Junior College in the fall and run on the school’s track team.
“We are forever grateful to Dr. Guerrero. The surgery he performed was a miracle,” Hendrix expressed. “We cannot thank him enough for what he did for my son. This whole journey has been amazing and I could not be prouder of Bryce.”