A high school coach who was seriously hurt in a bike crash got a big surprise Friday as the new school year begins -- hundreds of students and staff members leaped to their feet at a pep rally held in his honor.
Brian Schmidt -- a teacher and the cross-country coach at Rock Ridge High School in Loudoun County, Virginia -- was surprised with a heartwarming tribute.
The coach known to many students simply as Schmidt was training on his bicycle on June 7 when he crashed with a truck.
He was treated in an intensive care unit and broke his pelvis and tailbone, among other injuries. He spent two weeks in the hospital.
A look at his crumpled bike shows what a close call it was. His young runners worried he would be paralyzed and unable to return to work. But they knew how tough he is.
Schmidt is an ultra-marathoner who competes in 100-mile races. A photo of him after a race, his white shirt wet with blood, became the cover of a running magazine. He won the 2013 Catocin 50K Trail Race with a time of 5 hours 11 minutes 44 seconds, The Frederick News-Post reported.
It was no surprise to Schmidt's team when cross-country practice began this month that he arrived at practice using a wheelchair or walker.
"We knew he'd be here on the first day. We really did," school athletic director Pat McNanley said.
Even before the crash, Schmidt's motto was "the relentless pursuit of forward progress." Those words are now printed on a shirt sold at Rock Ridge.
"No matter what happens, you just keep moving forward," he explained.
Students and staff gave Schmidt a standing ovation when he walked into the middle of the gym Friday afternoon on crutches. He said he was moved by the gesture.
"The support from the staff and the student body means so much to me," he said. "I just can't believe it."
Cross-country runner Flora Grainger, a senior, asked her coach to take his time.
"We're OK with him in the state that he is. He can take it slowly," she said. "He doesn't have to rush through his recovery."
Schmidt's next goal is to walk unassisted when classes start at the school next week. By his birthday in April, he wants to be running again.