Tyler Chamberlain’s story is about a $1,100 brace and priceless determination.
Chamberlain is a captain and two-way lineman for the John Bapst of Bangor football team, positions earned through his play on the field and his commitment during the off-season — he hadn’t missed a summer workout in four years.
But his senior season nearly ended before it began.
During the Crusaders’ first defensive series of their first game, Chamberlain was in pursuit of Bucksport halfback Nate Warren. Teammate Chris Fogler beat him to the tackle, but Chamberlain wasn’t far behind.
“I saw him headed toward the ground and I tried to stop before I hit him,” said the 6-foot, 220npound Chamberlain. “I was in the air, and when I landed my knee just twisted.”
Chamberlain left the game, then returned twice briefly, only to eventually shut it down knowing something wasn’t right. Two days later, an MRI confirmed Chamberlain had a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn meniscus in his right knee.
“Being the first game of my senior year and it happening so early in the game, I felt a little robbed because I had put so much time into this,” said Chamberlain, the son of Bruce and Lisa Chamberlain of Eddington. “I kind of freaked out, because football’s pretty much my entire life.”
Reconstructive ACL surgery typically means six months on the sidelines, which would have marked the end of Chamberlain’s high school career.
But after several days of coming to grips with the injury, one hopeful scenario emerged — that the meniscus possibly could be removed without having to reconstruct the ACL, enabling Chamberlain to return to his team using a Donjoy Defiance knee brace to provide some of the stability usually provided by the ACL.
So little more than a week after the injury, Chamberlain underwent surgery.
“The doctor said the surgery would be an hour and a half without reconstruction, and three hours with it,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell. “I got a call from his father 2½ hours in saying the surgery was ongoing, and some depression set in because we all knew how much he wanted to play his senior year.
“But then he called back an hour and 15 minutes later and said, ‘You won’t believe this, but they took the ACL completely out, he can wear a brace, and unless he experiences severe pain he could play in a couple of weeks.’”
Turns out an issue related to the anesthesia caused the slight delay in the surgery, but there was little delay in Chamberlain’s comeback.
“Nothing was really going to stop me,” he said. “I was on the bike two days after surgery, and the day I got the brace I was back at practice.”
Two weeks later Chamberlain was back in the lineup for a Week 5 game against Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield.
“He’s the emotional leader of our team,” said O’Connell, “and to see Tyler and his family go through that was a blow I didn’t know if we could recover from as a team. I know we were awful glad to have him back.”
Chamberlain plans to have reconstructive surgery on his knee in December with the hope of playing college football next year. But in the meantime there’s a title to pursue as John Bapst is seeded second in the LTC playoffs and faces Stearns of Millinocket in a regional quarterfinal Saturday night.
And ACL or no ACL, Tyler Chamberlain is thankful to still be part of that quest.
“To go from being told it would be six months before I could play to playing in three game weeks is crazy,” he said.