Runner Dillon Kluttz finds success after accident

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 17, 2009

By Katie Scarvey
Running has been good to Dillon Kluttz. The high school senior was a standout cross country runner at West Rowan. This year, he was named to the all-county and all-conference teams and was named MVP for his team. He even got a scholarship to run in college.
But surfing? That hasn’t been quite as good for Dillon.
Dillon loves to surf. And when there’s no ocean available, the closest he can come to surfing is riding his skateboard.
To simulate the thrill of surfing, he used to like to grab on to the back of a car and ride to the top of a hill and then skateboard.
In the mind of a teenager, that probably doesn’t seem dangerous. But it is ó as Dillon discovered.
After a “surfing” accident this past May introduced him abruptly to a stretch of asphalt on Neel Road, Dillon sustained two skull fractures ó and found himself in the position of having to learn how to walk again.
He knows he’s lucky to be alive.
Dillon doesn’t remember a lot from the day of his accident, May 20. He does remember holding on to a friend’s car and riding on his skateboard up a hill. Unlike other times, the car was going too fast, and Dillon felt himself losing control.
He should have let go, he says. He’s still not sure why he didn’t.
Helmetless, shirtless and shoeless ó yes, he knows that wasn’t very smart ó Dillon fell, bouncing off the road, hitting his head and getting road rash on about 80 percent of his back.
He doesn’t remember being conscious after the accident, but he says people told him they saw him leaning against a tree, holding his back and looking dazed.
Before long, Dillon was being airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center.
His parents, Mike and Amy Kluttz, remember driving to the hospital down I-85, their hazard lights flashing and their their thoughts racing.
Amy remembers wondering if her son would be one of those teenagers who had his senior yearbook dedicated to his memory.
“We had no clue whether he was living or dead,” Amy said.
When they arrived at the emergency department where Dillon was being worked on, his eyes were open and he was talking to the nurses, Amy said, which she took to be a good sign.
But it was still a frightening scene for a parent.
“Dillon began throwing up what seemed like buckets of blood,” Amy said.
After Dillon had a brain scan, it was determined that he had two skull fractures and bleeding on his brain, causing dangerous swelling.
If the swelling increased, Dillon would need emergency surgery, they learned. He was also at high risk for infection, due to the location of one of the fractures, which was causing blood to drain into his sinus cavity.
Amy says that she hadn’t been able to cry at that point. “What is wrong with me?” she asked Mike.
In the intensive care unit, Amy met a family with a 2-year-old child who had been in a freak accident involving an electric window, which had damaged his windpipe. Amy remembers praying with the child’s grandmother.
“As we prayed, I turned my prayers towards that little boy, and something inside of me released. The tears began to flow. I made my way back to Dillon’s room, watched him sleep, and I realized that God had answered our prayers. Dillon was going to live.”
Dillon stayed in the hospital for nine days, three of which were in intensive care.
The cross country community rallied to Dillon’s side. When Dillon was in the hospital, East Rowan coach Rick Roseman and his cross country team paid him a visit. That was initiated, Mike says, by Cole Honeycutt and Hunter Arey, Dillon’s friends and fellow runners.
“He raised up in the bed, sick as a dog, and acknowledged all of them,” Mike says. “It really lifted his spirits.”
But Dillon still faced a challenging period of recovery, and his future wasn’t certain.
He was told that it would probably take him 12-15 months to recover.
“He was not expected to run again,” said Mike.
And in fact, Dillon actually had to learn how to walk again. A therapist worked with him in the hospital to teach him a skill that had somehow been lost when his brain was injured.
Everything was made more difficult by the excruciating headaches, dizziness and nausea Dillon experienced after the accident.
“My head was hurting so bad,” he remembers. “My head was killing me.”
When Dillon came home, his struggles would continue. He was basically confined to bed. He could not get up without help.
“I kept thinking, ‘I will never ever run again,'” he said. “Just walking was killing me.”
After hearing what the doctors had to say, Mike and Amy assumed that even if Dillon was able to run again, he wouldn’t be able to compete at the level he had his junior year ó when his best 5K time was 17:22.
About three weeks after the accident, he remembers his mother walking him to the mailbox. Although it was only about 40 yards, the trek took him five or six minutes.
That was sobering, since only weeks earlier he could cover a mile in well under six minutes.
“I was almost in tears,” Dillon remembers.
But he wasn’t going to give up.
Around the first of July, he decided to try a short, slow run through his neighborhood.
It was painful.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but I could feel a pulse in my head,” he says.
He managed to make it through a mile, despite the pain in his head.
Not long after that, he went on a cruise with a friend, and he tried to run on the ship.
He still wasn’t ready.
After the cruise, however, things started to click.
He began running, about two miles at a time.
By the middle of July ó only about two months after the accident ó he was back to his regular mileage of six or eight miles a day. He worked out with runners on the South Rowan and East Rowan teams. Those teams, he said, including coaches Bob Marchinko (South) and Rick Roseman (East) were very supportive during that summer, and Dillon and his family are grateful.
“I’m happy now I went through it and was able to push through the pain,” he says.
His parents are proud of him and his can-do attitude as well.
“He was bound and determined he was going to run again,” Amy said.
He not only pushed through, he established a new personal best ó early in the season, he ran a 5K in 17 minutes flató trimming 22 seconds off his junior year best.
“Not bad for a kid knocked down the way he was,” Amy says.
Dillon’s coach, Scott Foster, praises Dillon’s work ethic and desire to improve. “He’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever been around,” Foster says.
On practices after meets that were supposed to be easy jogs, Foster says he’d have to tell Dillon to slow down.
“He’s got one speed,” Foster said. “All out.”
Dillon was a little disappointed that he peaked so early in the season, he says, but he was pleased his times were overall better than last year’s ó and good enough for him to make all-county and all-conference.
And also good enough to attract the attention of Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina, which recently awarded him a running scholarship worth $6,000 a year ó on top of an academic award.
Looking back on the accident, Dillon says that God was with him.
He’s looking forward to going to college and plans to be a special education teacher. He’s in the Teacher Cadet program at West Rowan this year and has been interning at Cleveland Elementary School.
Does he still have the daredevil streak?
“Well, I haven’t done anything as stupid as that,” he says. His parents have impressed upon him, he says, that he needs to think before doing things.
He does admit that, without mentioning it to his parents, he recently tried out for wrestling. When he got his head slammed on the mat, he realized that wrestling probably isn’t such a good idea.
His parents are grateful ó for Dillon’s recovery and for all the support they received during a tough time.
“The good news is Dillon is back to normal,” Amy says.
“I know that because I can yell at him when he aggravates his little sister.”
And the skateboard?
It’s on a shelf in his room.
“I’m not allowed to ride the skateboard,” he says, smiling.