NO HOLDING BACK
Montrose's Distel rebounds from major ankle injury to reach state meet
Sam Distel is smiling and joking around with his peeps — otherwise known as his teammates on the track and field team.
The smile and fun-loving personality of Distel easily hides the nightmare he experienced on Feb. 15.
The not-so-distant memory still haunts the Montrose High School senior. He’s happy, however, to be back in the competitive arena again.
A few weeks ago, Distel ambled into the discus circle, spun and uncorked a throw good for second place at a Stocker Stadium meet.
“I’m really excited that I’m able to throw this early. I wasn’t supposed to be back this early,” Distel said at the meet. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to throw until the league meet, but I got lucky and I’m healing really fast.”
It’s been a memorable, but painful, few months for the big guy from Montrose.
As a Montrose heavyweight, Distel was poised to head to Denver for the state wrestling tournament as the guy to beat in Class 4A’s heavyweight division.
The top seed, Distel had an impressive season to that point, and was coming off a district-tournament title — and it was only his second year as a high school wrestler.
The podium awaited — until a freak accident shattered that dream.
The non-wrestling accident before practice shredded his right ankle. And he knew it was real bad.
“I felt it pop out of place and the first thing that popped into my head was there goes state, there goes track season,” he said.
The pain was excruciating, but the torment of that lost opportunity at state wrestling was just as agonizing.
“I was breaking down, crying and screaming, just because I knew I was missing out on a lot,” he said.
Missing out on a chance at a state wrestling title when he was at the top of his game, is something he hasn’t quite put to rest.
“It really broke me down. I was down for a few weeks. I tried to listen to state wrestling (on the radio) but I couldn’t, it was too tough,” he said.
After the injury, Distel went in for a pretty major surgery.
The ankle dislocated and the trauma of the injury snapped the fibula, he explained.
Complete reconstructive surgery was next, which included a metal plate that holds the fibula together.
After such a major surgery, he was thrilled when he was able to return earlier than expected.
Distel loves competing in track and field, and like wrestling, he’s a state title contender.
Even during wrestling season, he was looking forward to returning to the Class 4A State Track and Field Championships. Last year he took second place in the discus and sixth in the shot put.
During that earlier meet he said there’s a little apprehension when he throws after the injury.
“A little bit, sometimes it gets to the point where the plate kinda makes me sore, but I’m getting better,” he said.
With every meet, he’s rounding into better shape and feeling more comfortable in the shot put and discus rings.
After the final meet before state, Distel showed that he’s nearly all the way back.
At the Cedaredge Invitational, Distel uncorked a season-best of 160 feet, 5 inches in the discus. That ranks him at fourth in 4A in his favorite event. He’s still about four feet behind his personal record from last year, but he has been throwing better almost every week.
Right now he’s ranked sixth in the 4A shot put, with a best of 49-11. That’s still far less than his personal best from last year of 52-8.
Competing in the shot put takes more of a toll on the ankle.
“It’s because the ring is so much smaller and I don’t have as much room to relax my ankle,” he said.
He admits there are still a few nights where sleep is difficult when he thinks about what-could-have-been at state wrestling.
“I was so far ahead in wrestling. Now, I feel like that is unfinished,” he said.
That’s why he wants to do as well as possible when the state track and field meet begins on Thursday.
“Hopefully, I can place the best I can at state in track, I think that will help me feel better about everything,” he said.
College will have to wait for a while, Distel said. First comes his faith and a commitment.
“I’ll be going on my mission soon for my church. So it will be a few more years before I decide about college,” he said.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, Distel’s faith is important and a source of pride for him.
“I’m excited about it,” he said about his mission. “I will be the first in my family to do it and I feel honored to be able to do that.”
Being out with his teammates again, he’s enjoying his final track and field season in his senior year. Even with the painful memories of missing state wrestling still simmering, Distel is focused on just having fun.
“It’s so much fun to be back out here, getting back into the competitive spirit again,” he said. “I’ve always been competitive, especially in the individual sports.”