Rival turns inspiration
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 21, 2010 1:46 PM
Members of the Eastern Wayne High School soccer team.
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
Burke visits with well-wishers during his visit to the Eastern Wayne- Charles B. Aycock game.
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
Members of the Eastern Wayne High School soccer team honored former Charles B. Aycock opponent David Burke, who was injured in a freak accident last spring that has left him in a wheelchair. Burke has been home for several weeks and will return to Shepherd Center for further rehabilitation next month.
A few minutes before 7 p.m. Monday, members of the Eastern Wayne High School soccer team ran over to the bleachers where former Charles B. Aycock student David Burke sat in his wheelchair.
The team members had just finished warming up for their contest against their archrivals, the Golden Falcons.
But before changing into their team uniforms for the game, they lined up in formation in front of Burke and applauded -- a show of support for the young man who might once have been an opponent on the field, but who, in that moment, was simply one of their own.
Sporting black T-shirts with "Burke" on the front and Jeremiah 32:17, a Bible verse containing the message that "Nothing is too hard for (God)" on the back, the Warriors made sure he knew, in his new battle, that they were on his side.
Burke was out for his first real sports outing since he was injured in a freak accident last spring when, just weeks shy of his graduation, the senior landed the wrong way during an ultimate kickball game at a Young Life event.
His spinal cord was damaged and he was initially hospitalized at Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville before later transferring to Shepherd Center in Atlanta for rehabilitation.
The days since have been filled with hard work.
About a month ago, David quietly returned home, exhausted and in need of some rest, his father, Tom Burke, said.
For David, seeing his former rivals acknowledging not only where he has been, but the journey he continues to face, mattered.
"There's a lot of respect," said Burke, who had learned about Eastern Wayne's gesture only moments before arriving, when a friend texted him.
He said he was not surprised by the show of support.
"(Jorge) Wagner is a great coach. I have a lot of respect for him and the program," he said. "You don't expect those kind of things until something crazy like this happens and you learn to expect anything."
And despite his tough summer, David continues to look ahead with determination and courage. He said he is grateful for the support of his family and friends.
"I have gotten more than the rest I needed," he said Monday evening. "It's been great. I don't think that many people know that I'm home but my close friends have come to see me."
Not that sitting on the sidelines was easy.
"If I got up and walked right now, they better let me play," David said with a smile. "I would play referee, I don't even care."
His sense of humor and mischievousness is still intact, said his mother, Donna, who accompanied her son to Atlanta, and will again when they return early next month.
"It he hadn't had a sense of humor for the past four months, he just has the greatest outlook, he kept me smiling," she said. "Even at the hospital, they had him go and talk to some of the other patients, to help them get over some of the bumps."
David's body might have been affected by the accident, but his faith has not wavered.
"It just built it, made it stronger," he said. "You know, it's the peace that has no understanding. I sit and try to wonder why. I'm supposed to be so much worse. I can't figure it out. There's no figuring it out. Things are getting better for a reason (and) God's going to put me where I need to be."
In those early moments at the hospital, the prognosis looked bleak, his mother said. One doctor told one of David's three older brothers that David would never walk again.
But no one who knows the young man believes that.
"He's functioning pretty well with his arms," Mrs. Burke said. "He's pretty hard-headed. ... David used to play such hard soccer, there have been times when you'd see him go down and you'd just hold your breath, but he just kept on going."
That fortitude, she believes, is what keeps her youngest son determined to face whatever lies ahead.
The time at home has also been good medicine. Surrounded by family as he recuperates, he said he has enjoyed hanging out with friends, going out to eat and going to the YMCA to work out.
Even there, he has been an inspiration, his mother said.
"We have been going there three, four times a week," she said. "Kids tell him they were so tired at the end of school and just wanted to go home and sit on the couch but then thought, 'If David can get to the Y, we can get to the Y.'"
Mrs. Burke said she appreciated what the Eastern Wayne team did this week to pay tribute to her son.
"Their biggest rivals wearing the Burke T-shirts in his honor, I was touched to think (they) all bought the T-shirts," she said.
The shirts were initially created after the accident as a fundraiser to help with medical expenses.
Ronnie Schultze of Screen-It said his son, Patrick, a former Aycock teammate, along with his sister, Brittani, came up with the verse.
"When David first got hurt, Patrick wanted to do something to help," Schultze said. "He created a Facebook page, and we came up with the idea for the shirt."
Nick Bowden, EW team captain, said it wasn't hard to implement the idea after the coach saw him wearing the shirt one day.
"I thought that with this being the first game that we played against Aycock since David's accident, it might be a nice gesture to show him that at Eastern Wayne we miss him and wish him the best," Coach Jorge Wagner said. "A lot of the boys played with him, played against him for a long time. I thought it was appropriate."
Such efforts from their hometown community have been "amazing," Mrs. Burke said.
"It's really touching when people you don't even know are concerned," she said. "I think it's all meant a lot to David, too."