Gregg Dodderidge

An emotional return for PJ

PJ Kuzmitski heads to the center of the field with teammates, from left, Jayden Carter, Zachary Palmer, and Garrett McMechan, for the flip of the coin before Friday’s JV game at Badger Stadium.
PJ Kuzmitski heads to the center of the field with teammates, from left, Jayden Carter, Zachary Palmer, and Garrett McMechan, for the flip of the coin before Friday’s JV game at Badger Stadium. Sierra Star

It was Senior Night and Homecoming last Friday night at Badger Stadium. Those are always special, but it was just over the top seeing PJ Kuzmitski back home and with his team again.

On Friday, I finally got to meet PJ in person. It was an honor and privilege and I am the better person for it. PJ is truly beyond his years. He is only 14 but he has such an incredible demeanor. Watch some of PJ’s media interviews. He is calm and articulate. He has had a lot of interviews but he has handled them well.

Bottom line-with all that PJ has been through and his life-changing injury what you won’t hear is any ‘why me’ from PJ.

All PJ can think about is moving forward to his future, and getting better and getting back into athletics. He admits to having to make some adjustments, but he is working hard every day to achieve his goals. No injury is going to get in PJ’s way.

You see we can learn a lot from our kids. How many of you as adults would be able to be so stoic? Most of us would think of the past or the accident and certainly have some bitterness. I didn’t see that with PJ. That’s why you just can’t help loving and admiring this kid. Thousands around the country also feel this way, because PJ’s attitude is contagious.

Many of you remember the story of 2005 YHS graduate Toran ‘Chance’ Gaal, who lost both his legs from an improvised explosive device (IED) bomb in Afghanistan while serving his country in the Marine Corps in 2011.

Afterward, I saw Chance at the VA facility in Palo Alto. I love Chance. He was a close friend of my son Jake. For years they were a dynamic duo on the basketball court. I didn’t know what to expect during my visit. I drew all my strength as a parent to be composed. I walked away from my visit in awe.

Like PJ, all Chance could think about was getting out and serving his country in any capacity he could. No dwelling on the past, just looking forward to the future. Chance is living large. He is married, he is a motivational speaker, and in 2015 he used a custom, hand-powered cycle to travel 4,067 miles from San Diego to Arlington, Virginia raising $50,000 for wounded veterans.

I promise you, we will hear great things about PJ in the future. PJ is confident that we will see him on a wrestling mat and maybe in a football uniform. The outpouring of support from this community is amazing.

This community and especially the YHS students went above and beyond to honor Shania Costella after her tragic death in an auto accident. last year. It is happening again with PJ. I am beyond proud of our community spirit and support and you should be too. This community comes together in difficult times.

The football field can be a tough place. You wonder why so many players gather in prayer before and after games. Our prayers continue for PJ and his family and for a speedy recovery. Get to know PJ. I promise you will be impressed.

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