It looked little bit like a Lake Braddock High School pep rally outside MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in northwest Washington today, but the cheers were for just one player – 17-year-old pitcher Nick Balenger.
Just two months ago he celebrated a state championship with his baseball team. Now, he’s suddenly sidelined after a swimming accident in Hawaii left him paralyzed.
Nick was born in Maui, so his family traveled there so he could see his birthplace. Nick was doing a flip in the ocean July 25 when he landed badly. His father, Steve, pulled him from the surf, but the accident left him with no feeling from the shoulders down.
Twitter quickly sent the startling news home to Fairfax County. Nick’s teammates, friends and their parents swung into action. One mom scheduled two tour buses and filled them with Nick’s friends today. The students lined the hospital driveway, holding “we love Nick” signs, ringing cowbells and shouting as the ambulance carrying Nick home arrived. For his family, it was a heartwarming welcome after a grueling 19-hour trip from Hawaii.
“To be home and have the support of family and friends is unbelievable for what it’s going to do for his rehab,” said his aunt Tamara Balenger. His mom, Sylvie Balenger, told News4, “Just the support and the prayers, too, it really helps.”
Nick’s friends say they want him to know he won’t be alone as he faces the enormous challenge ahead.
“I’m really hoping this picks him up because he’s going through a real tough time,“ teammate Ian Reilly said. “We want to let him know his team’s behind him.”
Girlfriend Allison Eichelberger is optimistic.
“Hopefully he’ll make a full recovery and get back to playing baseball maybe one day,” she said.
Nick’s mother said Sunday the family watched with delight as Nick moved his leg muscles.
“We really hadn’t seen any movement from the chest down since the accident happened,” said Sylvie Balenger, “He started moving both knees. I saw it myself so it’s a great sign … We hope it’s just the beginning of his recovery.”
Aunt Tamara is betting on her godson to recover and said the big show of support will help fuel his determination.
“It’s not a challenge any 17-year-old should have, but he’s a tough kid and I think he’s going to make it happen,” she said.
If you want to follow Nick Balenger’s progress or make a contribution to the family expenses, you can connect on his Caring Bridge page.