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Ethan Walker: Boy with the unbreakable spirit is Germany bound


In the coming weeks, we will hear stories of the Tartan Army on the move.

There will be some epic stories about Scotland fans making their way to Munich on June 14, when Steve Clarke’s men take on the host nation in the opening match of Euro 2024.

Of all the people who will come to Germany, it is unlikely that any will have a story as stunningly inspiring as Ethan Walker, an 18-year-old footballer from Huntley.

On June 1, Ethan will leave Hampden Park and cycle to Munich with three others, a 1,200km journey that would pose a major challenge to the strongest of the strong but something very different for the teenager lucky to be alive. .

Last fall, while Ethan was in the early stages of a football scholarship to a New York state university, he was hit by a car and suffered catastrophic injuries.

Right pulmonary contusion, right shoulder fracture, pelvic fracture, base of skull fracture, left hand fracture, facial lacerations, dysphagia and nerve damage, fracture of multiple ligaments of the right leg and tibial plateau, subarachnoid hemorrhage, left cerebellar contusion.

In layman’s terms, he was fighting for his life, and for a brief moment, the odds didn’t look good.

“The doctor didn’t think Ethan would survive.”

If you looked at him now, smiling and joking about the ordeal and giddy with excitement about the next bike ride, you couldn’t tell any of this.

Positivity flows from him, which is remarkable considering the trauma he and his family have gone through.

“Football is my pride and joy,” he says. “I was playing for Huntly’s under-18s when I got a scholarship to America.

“I went there last summer and started five of our six games. I settled in amazingly well.”

What does he remember from the fateful day?

Breakfast, bath, protein shake. He went to college for physical education class, then gym. When he got back to the dorm, he helped cut his friend’s hair… and that’s about it.

His mother, Jacqueline, remembers as much. Mad rush to Edinburgh airport, flight to New York, drive to Buffalo County Hospital.

“I just wanted to get there and hold his hand and tell them it was going to be okay,” she says.

“I was gathering some information. He was hit by a car that was going about 60 miles per hour [it was later deemed a no-fault accident].

“I was shocked when I saw him. He was connected to everything, the wires coming out of his brain.

“The first neurologist I spoke to in the trauma unit was nice, but most of what he said was over my head.

“There was another doctor who said he didn’t think Ethan would survive. He asked him very politely not to say anything like that again. Or maybe not so politely, I’m not sure.”

The surgery was the scariest thing. “They said the surgery could kill him and I think this was Paul’s first time [Ethan’s dad] He saw me crying the whole time we were in the hospital,” his mother recalls.

Baby Boy Blue refuses walking frame

Jacqueline knew her son was a fighter, and that’s exactly what he did. He spent nearly two months in hospital, initially unconscious, before gradually regaining consciousness.

The nurses nicknamed him “Baby Blue,” and he was now “Baby Boy Blue” once they saw the color of his eyes.

Between the trauma unit and the intensive care ward, it was a very long way. For six weeks, Jacqueline slept in a chair next to him, with Ethan’s father and sister nearby.

He was being fed through a tube and his speech was muffled and almost indecipherable.

“He was in the hallway with older patients who were trying to exercise,” Jacqueline recalls. “He was saying to them, ‘Am I going to give you a race?’ But they didn’t understand him.

“He was very weak and still very sick, but you could see his determination to get better. He was funny. He had a feeding tube, but all he wanted was a burger.”

Ethan’s spirit shone through him. His parents never stopped worrying, but they made the trip home and his recovery began in earnest.

His speech slowly improved, his coordination was better than before, the tubes came out and he got the burger.

He was advised to use a walking frame, but that never happened. He used crutches instead, as a football player would.

He then visited Professor Gordon Mackay, a world-renowned surgeon based in Dunblane. McKay was in the Rangers squad under Graeme Souness, but sports surgery is where he excelled.

“When Ethan came to see me, he still had his feeding tube,” says Professor McKay.

“He had all these other injuries, which were horrific, plus he had five ACL injuries to his knee. We had to rebuild all the ligaments in his body.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous the way he bounced back. Three months later, he told me he could run, and I said: ‘Don’t be silly.’ And sure enough, he ran straight away.

“Every time I see him he asks me when he will play football again. I can’t promise him anything, but from here we came up with the idea of ​​cycling to the European Championships.”

“I keep telling myself I will play again.”

Four of them are leaving Hampden – the footballer, the surgeon, the film-maker (Martin Robertson, who is making a documentary about Ethan’s story) and the Tartan Army foot soldier, Stephen Colley.

After his ordeal, how does Ethan feel about life?

“As if I can do anything,” he says.

Knowing what he knows now about his accident, how does he see his recovery?

“It sounds good, impossible, almost,” he replies.

His love for football is undiminished. He’s still monitoring Huntly and still checking on Aberdeen and nothing will change on that front.

“The trip to Munich will keep me focused on my recovery and I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “We’re walking about 90 miles a day and I can’t wait until then.” I can do it.

“None of us have a ticket for the Germany game. It would be great to get one, but just being in Munich would be unbelievable. The atmosphere will be unbelievable.”

And further than Germany? He adds: “Well, I will be told if I can play football again. There is still no indication, but I want to and I keep telling myself that I can.”

How could she doubt him now when he had defied the odds so many times already?

Whatever challenges he faces on the way to Munich, they are sure to seem accidental to the boy with the unbreakable spirit.



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