Chris Murphy, Published May 27 2013
Pelican Rapids baseball player back on the diamond after leg amputation
Two days after Christmas in 2011 and three days after returning from a dream vacation to Hawaii on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Pelican Rapids (Minn.) junior pitcher A.J. Wroe woke up in the hospital to a nightmare. His right leg was gone, amputated due to a cancerous tumor inches above his knee. The leg was gone and all that remained was pain.
“I just remember waking up in the recovery room in just a ton of pain,” Wroe said. “I remember looking down and I was like, ‘Well, this is different.’ There wasn’t any thoughts. At that moment, it was just the pain.”
The story of Wroe and his return to the pitching mound has been told. It’s been written, he’s been interviewed and he’s been on TV. But like a legend recited to a child before bed, to make them dream of hope, Wroe’s story deserves to be told again and again.
“He’s an inspiration,” said Pelican Rapids sophomore outfielder Kasey Krueger, who has known Wroe since fifth grade. “To go through that and remain strong and to come back and still play is amazing. Not going to lie, he’s still better than some of the guys on the team, even with one leg.”
Wroe has had a lifetime of pain in less than two decades.
The pain of a phone call telling him to turn around immediately to drive back to Fargo after pulling into the gravel road toward home off Highway 34 between Barnesville, Minn., and Pelican Rapids because a tumor was found. The pain of a doctor telling him at age 16 it was cancer and there was a 30 percent chance of keeping his leg. The constant vomiting, nausea, seemingly never-ending nose bleeds and hundreds of trips to the hospital and emergency room during chemotherapy.
The pain of going from a three-sport athlete as a freshman to feeling the stares of an entire school when coming back to Pelican Rapids after the amputation.
“It’s weird, but it’s not just weird for you, it’s weird for everyone,” Wroe said. “Your best friends, your classmates and everyone who doesn’t know you, they don’t know how to react around you. They don’t know if they should be how they always were, or if they should comfort you. It’s kind of an awkward situation, but eventually the people love you for who you are. I just had to adjust to it and keep going.”
The worst pain for Wroe was on the fields in which he could no longer compete.
“The worst thing is going to the sporting events and watching my classmates go out there without me,” Wroe said.
The few months Wroe had no prosthetic leg because his insurance wouldn’t cover the cost, his mind found something else to numb the pain.
“All I could think about was sports,” Wroe said. “How am I going to compete in football and basketball and do all this and go through this? I think if I would have had the choice to save the leg, I don’t think I would. When they do the limb salvage to save your leg all you can do is a slow jog, so I wouldn’t have been able to play sports anyway. Plus, there would have been a lot higher chance of the cancer coming back and I didn’t want to deal with it again.”
After getting a prosthetic leg and missing all sports his sophomore year, Wroe found a way to get back on one field: the baseball diamond. And he wasn’t accepting any handouts.
“He deserves to be here,” Pelican Rapids baseball coach Adam Johnson said. “He works just as hard as anyone. He’s not looking for sympathy. He wants to be like everyone else. He is like everyone else in our eyes.”
Rather than let the pain take over him, Wroe has triumphed over it. The Pelican Rapids baseball team is 1-15 going into the playoffs and Wroe has given up four runs in two innings pitched for the Vikings this season. Wroe and the Vikings victory will not be seen in any box score, but in each time Wroe puts on a uniform and forgets the pain. He’s even added some art to his prosthetic legs, one has a University of North Dakota sticker and another has a Minnesota Twins sticker.
“It feels good to just come out here every day and play with people I love,” Wroe said. “I know there’s other people who are going through worse situations than I am or the same situation and I want to show everyone that it’s not impossible to go out and do this with the cards that you’re dealt. It’s certainly changed me. I’m far more accepting of people.”
Getting to the mound should be a victory in itself for Wroe. But he isn’t done yet.
“The goal is to get him to play every day and that’s what we’re hoping for, right?” Johnson said at Wroe before the Vikings played a doubleheader versus Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton to close the regular season.
Wroe, hoping to become a starting pitcher or a consistent reliever next season, didn’t hesitate.
“Heck yeah,” Wroe said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548