HODGDON, Maine — Some kids will do just about anything to play the sport they love, even if it means playing through pain.
Hodgdon sophomore Walker Oliver is one of those kids.
A talented 6-foot guard, Walker, the 15-year-old son of Matt and Lee-Rae Oliver, has been playing basketball with a back injury for the entire season. His father, who serves as the varsity boys basketball coach and was a 2,000-point scorer for the Hawks, said his son’s medical condition is not well known in the community.
The family thinks Walker hurt his back while lifting weights during the summer of 2020. Originally, the youngster thought he had suffered a hamstring pull, as there was pain radiating down his left leg. The source of the pain remained a mystery after a visit to the family doctor.
“He couldn’t even put any weight on it,” Matt Oliver said. “He received some physical therapy, but it didn’t get any better.”
When things did not improve, the family went back to their doctor and were advised that he should cease all physical activity to see if his condition improved.
“He was very frustrated because he was used to working out and playing basketball every day,” Oliver said. “After a couple of months of doing everything they told him to do, such as light stretching and walking only, he wasn’t getting any better.”
It was then that the family sought a referral to an orthopedic specialist in Bangor in October. After undergoing an MRI, the doctor gave the family a grim diagnosis that Walker had two bulging discs close to a nerve root, which was the source for the leg pain.
He also saw a radiologist who said that Walker had spondylosis, a condition more commonly associated with older people. Spondylosis is “a general term for age-related wear and tear affecting the spinal disks in your neck. As the disks dehydrate and shrink, signs of osteoarthritis develop, including bony projections along the edges of bones [bone spurs],” according to the Mayo Clinic website.
Cervical spondylosis is very common and worsens with age. More than 85 percent of people older than age 60 are affected by cervical spondylosis.
“In basic terms, we were told there were cracks in his vertebrates,” Oliver said. “It’s something that is just going to take time to heal. That could take as long as a year. We are just hoping nothing aggravates it.”
In order to get the green light to play basketball, Walker underwent additional physical therapy, and limited his basketball activities greatly. He was told if he played, it would be a matter of how much pain he could tolerate.
“Coming back for this season was close,” Walker said. “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to play in the first game.”
Oliver estimated his son was operating at about 50-60 percent of what his physical capabilities normally would be, but taking the year off was not something Walker was willing to consider.
Walker said playing through the pain is tolerable, but wishes he could do some of the normal things on the court that he was able to do his freshman year.
“Driving to the basket is really the big thing I can’t do as much,” he said. “I can still shoot threes (3-pointers).”
“With something like this [injury], until it completely heals you are never 100 percent,” Oliver said. “The lateral mobility and quick stops and starts just are not there.”
When healthy, Walker has been the Hawk’s top scoring threat in games this season. In a Jan. 19 game against Washburn, he poured in a game-high 29 points to lead the team to a 62-52 overtime victory. As of Friday, Feb. 26, the Hawks were 5-6 on the season and ranked fifth in the Aroostook County Class B/C division.
He was also the Hawks’ second leading scorer during his freshman season.
With only 10 players on the roster, including numerous underclassmen and an eighth-grader, Walker keeps pushing himself onto the court.
“I may not be 100 percent, but I didn’t want to let the guys down,” Walker said. “I want to do anything I can to help the team win games.”
Playing multiple games in a week is when Walker said he feels the pain the most. Thus far, he has had to miss just one game because of the injury.
“It is a good life lesson to learn to overcome adversity by focusing on what is really important to him,” Oliver said. “Basketball is the only sport Walker participates in. He loves it.”