HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jesse Humalon has returned to football as a receiver and cornerback for Castle after suffering a serious neck injury while bodyboarding at Sandy Beach. CLICK FOR LARGE
Surf and Turf
Jesse Humalon didn't let a serious bodyboarding accident keep him out of football
PERHAPS EVEN more striking than Jesse Humalon's account of a day at the beach gone terribly wrong is where he's telling his story.
On the field where the Castle football team is wrapping up practice on the Kaneohe campus, Humalon recalls those chilling moments -- gasping for breath in the unsympathetic surf while his muscles ignored his commands.
"I heard my heartbeat," he says. "That's all I heard."
Bodyboarding with a friend at a favorite spot last year, a wave sent Humalon "over the falls," driving his board down on top of his head, temporarily leaving him without feeling from the neck down.
Yet, here he is, fully geared up and beaded with sweat as the Knights prepare for another hard-hitting Friday night.
"That's like the love of my life, so I thank God for that," Humalon says of his return to football this fall after surgery to stabilize his spine followed by a lengthy recovery.
Back on the field with four titanium bolts reinforcing his neck and medical clearance from his doctors, the senior has emerged as a multi-purpose threat for the defending Oahu Interscholastic Association Red East champions.
EVEN AS HE recovered from the accident, it was hard for Humalon to imagine -- or accept -- a life without football.
His father, Victor Humalon, threw the deciding touchdown pass in Waianae's 6-0 win over Saint Louis in the inaugural Prep Bowl in 1973, and his brothers Justin (Saint Louis) and Guy (Castle) enjoyed productive prep careers.
Jesse, who got his start in junior pee-wee ball as a kid, was looking forward to moving up to Castle's varsity squad in April 2005, when a trip to Sandy Beach with teammate Thomas Ilae-Timoteo nearly ended those plans.
His memory of the wave and the injury remains clear even though he briefly lost consciousness in the water.
"I landed sitting down on the sand because it's shallow, and my board landed on top of my head," he says. "The wave pushed my board down so my head went between my legs and I just blacked out.
"When I came to the surface and became conscious I couldn't move, I couldn't talk or anything. The wave hit me again and I blacked out again and when I came to the surface again I started to yell."
Ilae-Timoteo, who quarterbacked the Castle JV last season, had drifted further down beach and was walking along the shore when he heard his friend's shouts.
"I saw him kind of drowning, but his leash was keeping him above water," Ilae-Timoteo said. "He got to the point where he could stand on the sand but he wasn't, and I heard him calling me but I didn't know what he was saying.
"I jumped in the water and he told me he was paralyzed and right there I was shocked, I didn't know what to do."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Castle's Jesse Humalon ran toward the end zone during a 34-6 victory over Kalaheo last month. Humalon plays on offense, defense and special teams.
ILAE-TIMOTEO, SHAKEN by his friend's condition, was joined by lifeguards to get Humalon on shore and he was rushed to The Queen's Medical Center. To everyone's relief, Humalon began feeling a tingling sensation in his body about a half hour after the incident and his condition improved by the time his parents arrived at the hospital.
"I didn't really know anything until I got to the hospital," said Celeste Humalon, Jesse's mother. "They took me right to him and he looked right up at me and said, 'Don't worry mom, I can feel everything.' That was the first thing out of his mouth."
During his week-long stay in the hospital, Jesse was told a vertebrae in his neck had slipped slightly. While the thought of not being able to play football again gnawed at him, his parents reminded him of the bigger picture.
"We just told him, 'Don't worry about that right now. Just be thankful you're alive and you can feel and you're way better off than you might have been,' " Celeste said.
A DECISION ON whether to have surgery to stabilize his neck by fusing the C4 and C5 vertebrae -- and leave open the possibility of playing again -- was then left to the family. After considering multiple opinions, they opted for the procedure.
Jesse spent most of the next couple of months in bed, dropping 20 pounds over that time. He did his school work at home and his mother helped him with everyday tasks.
All along, he envisioned a return to football. He was back in school that fall and hung around with the Knights, spending his junior year watching every game from the sidelines.
"Initially he was just trying to make sure he's OK and able to function and when things healed the way they did, he started to think about football," Castle coach Nelson Maeda said. "But you don't want to put false illusions into a kid's hopes and dreams, you're taking it one step at a time."
A year after his surgery, Humalon was cleared by his doctor to participate in sports and joined the Castle track team last spring. And with assurances from his doctor that the surgery wouldn't pose a greater risk, he spent the summer bulking up for a return to the football field.
"He said if my neck's going to get hurt, it's not going to be (because of) the surgery," Jesse said.
"The coaches kept in contact with us and made sure everything was OK," Celeste said. "They were really on top of it as far as even letting him lift one weight."
After being granted clearance, he finally strapped on the pads again last month for the start of practice.
"It was kind of emotional to be back out there," he said. "I was so happy, I can't believe I have pads on again, I'm hitting again."
NOW THAT HE'S back on the field, the speedy receiver/cornerback rarely leaves once the whistle blows, contributing on offense, defense and special teams.
Humalon returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown and caught a pass for a score in Castle's 34-6 win over Kalaheo on Aug. 26. Two weeks later, he returned a kickoff 82 yards against Moanalua.
"He had a short time to get acclimated back into the contact again, but he hasn't let that injury hamper him in terms of his aggressiveness," Maeda said. "I think as the days went on and he got more contact in, he became more confident that he could be back to how he was."
Despite the frightening ordeal, Humalon considers himself fortunate and is thankful to Ilae-Timoteo and his family for their roles on the day of the accident and his recovery.
Although a scar now runs down the back of his neck, Humalon has resumed his normal life, including football and bodyboarding, and doesn't mind talking about his experience.
"It seems like my life is normal and that didn't even happen," he says. "But once I get reminded of it, I think, 'Wow I can't believe that happened to me.'
"I was the one who'd say, 'Don't worry. That's not going to happen to anybody.' And then it happened to me."