KACEY MCCALLISTER UNSTOPPABLE!
Meet this remarkable double amputee who excels at wresling, track and life
By Laura Daton
Published: Summer 2002
A couple is enjoying breakfast at a coffee shop in Salem, Oregon, while reading the local paper. The husband, who is reading the sports page, looks up at his wife and asks, “Remember that kid Kacey, over in Keizer?
“Sure, he was the one doing so well in track, the 3000 meters I believe. Latest I heard he was thinking of doing cross-country.” Looking up curiously, she asks, “So what’s he up to now, the high jump?”
“No, it’s wrestling. I guess he’s doing pretty good at it. Paper says his coach calls him a pit bull,” and he begins folding up the section.
“From that kid, I’d believe it! I bet he could accomplish anything, absolutely anything,” his wife says as she reaches over for the sports section to read the newest triumphs of 15-year-old Kacey McCallister.
The Power of Faith
This could be a conversation overheard around small towns everywhere in America. Just another standout high school athlete who manages to make the front page of the sports section a couple times and garners his or her own entourage of fans. It’s great for the kids, the sports program and the parents.
Yet this high school student’s story is different, much different. Kacey McCallister’s right leg was taken off by an 18-wheeler and amputated at the hip. His left leg, also crushed, was taken off about seven inches from the hip. Kacey’s tragic accident happened when he was just six years old.
Kacey and his family were in Utah, attending a farewell celebration for an uncle who was leaving for a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) to Dallas, Texas. They stood waiting at the side of a two-lane road to cross to Kacey’s grandmother’s house. His older brother and sister crossed the street first, and Kacey waited with his parents while two oncoming trucks passed. Another truck was approaching when Kacey suddenly bolted across the street after his siblings. He almost made it. The semi hit Kacey’s foot and dragged him down.
The child lay on the pavement with two severed femoral arteries for 20 minutes before the ambulance arrived. He had no blood pressure when he arrived at the hospital. Once stabilized, he was flown by helicopter to Salt Lake City, where he spent months recovering.
“There’s no reason he should have lived,” said Bernie, Kacey’s father. “There is no question that it’s a miracle. God just had a greater plan for him and saved him.”
That faith---and the strength of his family---have been the only crutches Kacey really needs. The others---the prostheses he wears most of the time and the wheelchair he uses to hurry between classes and the track---are just tools to make everyday life easier. Most of the time he gets around all on his own, with a King Kong-like gait that has built up an incredibly powerful upper body. That upper body strength is what makes Kacey such a formidable opponent in wrestling.
Just an Average Kid
Kacey doesn’t recall the accident. He never even thinks about it unless someone asks. “I can remember the whole day up until then, but I don’t remember the impact. It’s just a white flash. I remember the sound of the helicopter and faces from the hospital. I remember the truck driver coming and giving me a stuffed animal,” says Kacey.
“I’ve never thought of myself as handicapped, and I never even think that I can’t do things,” says Kacey, a high school sophomore. “At the time of the accident we lived in Wyoming. That was cowboy country and I’d always wanted to be a bronc rider, even after the accident. We moved to Oregon when I was eight, and I got interested in other things. Not too many rodeos out here. By the time I was in the seventh grade some of my friends were getting into wrestling. It seemed like fun; they were doing it, so I joined them. At first I didn’t do too good,” says Kacey.
At McNary High, a school of 1,600 students in grades 9 to 12, Tony Olliff is Kacey’s wrestling coach and friend. But even with his help, Kacey must improvise and figure out his unique biomechanics to get a win.
“Coach Olliff’s the best,” says Kacey, who also praises his other coach, Molly Gaily. “Tony jokes a lot, but he always pushes and encourages me. Last year he got down on the mat and tried not to use his legs, to feel it from my vantage. But he can’t duplicate how I would do it, so he just lets me be creative. He’s gives good tips, like different ways to do a cradle and stuff like that, but mostly he lets me do it on my own.”
“Kacey’s style is very unorthodox,” says Ryan Stephenson, a McNary senior who is ranked second in the state in the 103-pound class. “I’ve learned a lot about wrestling from him. I have to really use my hands to keep him off my legs. I’ve definitely become a better wrestler because of Kacey. He’s much better than I ever expected him to be when he first came out for the team.”
Kacey is best at 103 pounds---rated 19th in the state---but when he moves up to 112 pounds he can hold his own. He’s hoping a little more track will keep him in the 103-pound class. Coach Olliff compares Kacey’s upper body strength to a 171-pounder’s. Although he recently got a weight set installed at home, Kacey’s awesome strength and muscular physique have been developed from relying on his upper body for mobility the past nine years.
Kacey also races in the 1500 and 3000 in track. He uses a special racing chair and pulls up the school’s best times in the 3000, although under Oregon School Activities Association guidelines Kacey can’t score because of the racing chair. However, he is philosophical about such awkward times. For example, last year during a wrestling match, a frustrated opponent yelled to his coach, “How do I wrestle this freak?” The remark generated penalty points, and the wrestler’s coach immediately pulled him from the match.
“That’s the only kid that had that bad of an attitude,” says Kacey. “Instead of shutting up and figuring out how to wrestle me, the kid just said something stupid. He just showed very poor sportsmanship.
“I’ve heard that a lot of kids are kind of scared of me at first. I understand---I’m a little careful around the handicapped too, a little reluctant. It’s a normal reaction to something different, until you get to understand it better.”
Kacey has plenty of other activities besides sports. He sings in the school choir, is active in the Boy Scouts and is proving himself to be quite the actor as well. Last year he played the minor part of Montague in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. This year, however, he plays the pivotal role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another Shakespeare classic.
He also visits nearby elementary schools to talk about his disability and his accomplishments. It’s a great way to educate and acquaint people with the fact that “disabled” doesn’t mean “unable.” It’s always uplifting to see people awed by Kacey’s accomplishments and deciding to raise their own levels of achievements. “I’ll probably always give the inspirational talks; my story lifts people’s spirits, and I enjoy that.”
Kacey plans to stick with wrestling through high school, maybe even college. He says he’ll be looking into the Special Olympics programs and getting more involved in racing. Finishing last year with a 3.66 GPA, Kacey is academically able to have a choice in colleges, but first he plans on doing a two-year mission for his church after high school. He still has plenty of time to decide on a vocation, but one thing he’s certain of is that he wants to someday have a family of his own.
Kacey is strong in spirit as well as body. Coach Olliff recalls one time when the team was preparing to get on the bus for a match. “I put Kacey’s wheelchair onto the bus, and there was about 20 feet of wet pavement between the curb and the bus. I asked him if he wanted me to pick him up and put him on the bus. He just looked at me like, ‘What am I, a baby?’”
“Kacey expects to succeed in life