Yosemite High School JV football player Peter ‘PJ’ Kuzmitski, underwent surgery Oct. 3 to amputate his right leg below the knee after a horrible injury during a Sept. 27 practice.
The injury occurred on the practice field at about 5 p.m., and coaches, sensing the seriousness of the injury to his right knee, immediately called 911 to send a ambulance to the school as quickly as possible.
Sierra Ambulance transported Kuzmitski to Valley Childrens Hospital where he was evaluated and then transferred to Fresno Regional Medical Center, where he underwent a multi-hour vascular operation to attempt to repair the damage to his leg.
Despite the best efforts by both hospitals, the injury was so catastrophic, that the only course of action was a below the knee amputation of the leg.
Jeff Guynn, who along with his wife Anne, are members of the Badger Boosters, coached Peter while he wrestled for the Yosemite Badger Youth Wrestling team last year when he was an eighth grader at Rivergold Elementary in Coarsegold.
“Peter was the most coachable athlete I have ever had in youth wrestling,” Guynn said. “He always gave 150% effort. His spirit is so strong, this will not change who he is. It will be a long recovery, but knowing him, he’ll eventually will be back on the wrestling mat and on the football field. The day after the surgery, he was already on his computer looking up athletes with a partial amputated leg, to see what they did to get back to their sport.”
JV Coach Mike Gipson coached the 4-foot-11, 110 pound Kuzmitski in youth football and now at the high school.
“Peter has always been undersized, but his work ethic, enthusiasm and personality always seems to be a step above all the other guys,” Gipson said. “Because of his efforts he makes all his teammates around him play better. He’s a happy kid every day, and he makes everyone’s day better just being around him.”
Gipson visited Kuzmitski in the hospital the day after the injury.
“He told me to tell the team he was sorry he couldn’t be at the game Friday night,” Gipson said. “Not one mention about himself, and he’s confident he will be back. He has a ton of support from this community.”
Peter is the son of Jake and Suzi Kusmitski, and step-father Kevin Kessler.
“I would like to thank his teammates and the community for their overwhelming support - we greatly appreciate it - it means a lot to Peter and me and his mother,” Jake said.
The JV running back was a graduate of Rivergold Elementary School where he was a standout student and athlete.
Rivergold Principal Bob Rose said Kuzmitski demonstrated a lot of drive and desire in everything he did.
“For many years, as a referee, I have watched Peter on the soccer field always giving more than 100%, never letting-up,” Rose said.
Rivergold administrators, staff, teachers and students put together a book filled with many heartfelt words of encouragement and wishes for a quick recovery, that was delivered to PJ last week.
Bob Elliott, Peter’s first grade teacher and coach wrote in the book: “I want you to know you are one of the most enjoyable kids I ever worked with. You have always played with passion, with the heart of a lion, but also with kindness ... the community is very much concerned about you ... and talking about you ... and this is what I hear over and over .... you’re a good friend, you are very determined and very strong. Whatever the future now holds, you will remain all of these things ... those qualities that have always made the community love you ... you have been an inspiring part of our community’s soul, and you continue to inspire.”
Anita Johnson is the treasurer of the Badger Football Boosters.
“This was a very unfortunate accident, but the boosters will do everything we can to rally behind PJ and his family,” Johnson said.
“Badger Tough, PJ Strong” t-shirts will be sold the Fall Festival Friday and Saturday at the Oakhurst Community Park. A bank account has been set-up at Chase Bank for PJ and his family. Checks can be made out to Yosemite Football Boosters with PJ Kuzmitski in the memo line of the check, and sent to Chase Bank, 40003 Highway 49, Oakhurst, CA., 93644. Checks can also be taken to the bank on the north-west corner of Highways 41and 49. There is also a Youcaring account available for Online donations.
And it’s not just Mountain Area people supporting Kuzmitski. Last Wednesday, Peter received a personal video from Oakland Raiders quarterback Derick Carr, saying he’s thinking and praying for PJ, and that he oped to see him soon.
This past Saturday he was visited by Buddy Elias, an amputee extreme sports athlete who lives in Clovis, and who for the past 18 years has stayed active and serves as an inspiration to as many amputees that he can get to.
Elias said that when he first heard PJ’s story, he knew right-a-way he had to go see him.
“The support that this young man has is absolutely amazing - the family is very upbeat and that support is critically important to anyone losing a limb,” Elias said. “I have been doing this for 18 years after taking courses on how to talk to amputees, and this is one of the strongest reactions I have seen from a community in support of PJ. Many don’t want to talk, and fall in a hole that’s hard to get out of. That is not the case with PJ. He has a very positive outlook, and he told me he can’t wait to get on the field again.”
Chad Macklin, who holds the title of the Strongest Adaptive Athlete in the World, also visited PJ last Saturday. At 6-foot-8, 315 pounds, the former Golden West High School football player suffered a skiing injury last winter, that required his right leg to be amputated below the knee in August 2016. Less than a year after that he won his national title.
“Every day I go in to see PJ, he’s looking better all the time,” Jeff Guynn said. “He’s in good hands at the hospital - eating well and very active in his physical therapy. He really enjoys the hospital visits from family and friends.”