KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Pembroke Hill Senior Nathan Turtedove recently got the Vilas Award for a scholarship to St. Lawrence University and is preparing for the state tournament this week.
Nathan may not have seen all those accomplishments come to fruition after a morning hike with the family back in March while visiting family in South Africa.
“As I stepped down on that rock, it’s as if I stepped on ice If that rock wasn’t there I would have fell down the entire mountain,” Nathan said.
“If he goes about 2 feet left or 2 feet right, he’s down,” Nathan’s father Robert said.
Table Mountain is above 3,000 feet in elevation The rock prevented the fall to 15 feet.
“I hear a thud, at least I know he hit something and then I don’t hear anything, then my heart stops again,” Robert said.
Nathan said because he’s an athlete, he was able to have the reaction time and react fast enough to brace himself with the left side of his body.
“If I hadn’t done that I would have hit head first and had major brain trauma and shattered everything in my face.”
But he still was in a fight for his life.
“They couldn’t land the helicopter on the top of the mountain, so they had to drop down the basket,” Nathan said.
Nathan experienced tachycardia, which is an accelerated heart beat. Nearly 100 times a minute. He broke his nose, fractured both lips, his left wrist, He had to get stitches in the back of head.
“I am petrified, I may or may not be able to fathom what may of may not be going on,” Robert said.
And then there was the call.
“First I said when I got up was ‘Don’t tell Mom,'” Nathan said.
“If I call his mother, I don’t know what I’m going to tell her,” Robert said.
“Needless to say, I was quite shocked, and after the initial shock which came with some tears, I was really upset and I might of started yelling a little bit about what happened and what might have happened,” Nathan’s mother Stacie said.
“The doctors told me in the hospital that 90% of the people that fall off this specific mountain don’t make it,” Nathan said. “So. really it was the luckiest day of my life.”
Doctors also told him returning back to tennis was out of the question. Nathan was determined to prove them wrong despite losing 15 pounds of muscle and a brace on his left wrist. He went through hydro therapy then physical therapy.
“He’s been such a dedicated player over many years and then all of a sudden to have it just cut from underneath you and then can’t do it, I think now you understand, wow I really do have a fire for this,” Coach Skip Span said.
“I knew that this was my senior year and this was my last shot and I really wanted to play and so I pushed myself,” Nathan said.
After recovering from his injuries, Nathan realized one thing, in order to qualify for the state tournament he had to play one regular season tennis match. Now normally Nathan plays left handed, but since his left hand hadn’t fully recovered yet he had to play this match right handed and he still won.
“When I couldn’t play everybody had to be moved up a spot and they told me we’re overwhelmed, we need you back. So I told them I’ll see what I can do,” Nathan said.
“The fact that he’s playing this week in state is amazing and surpasses our wildest expectations,” Stacie said.
“Looking back on it, I just realize how incredibly lucky I am,” Nathan said. “My whole perspective on life has totally changed.”
Pembroke Hill plays in the state semifinals Thursday.