Butterflies in his stomach, feet pressed firmly against the starting blocks, legs bent in the set position, he had one hand on the ground in front of him. At the sound of the starter pistol, 16-year-old high-school sophomore Andreas Schulz took off running, his eyes focused on the lane, and determined to complete the 200-meter course in 23 seconds.
He was a second short, but he did it. Andreas won the state track-and-field championship title May 8 with a time of 24.05 in the ambulatory division — a Florida High School Athletic Association race for students with permanent physical disabilities.
Running track has taken on new meaning for Schulz, after an ATV crash in June 2020. His left arm is paralyzed (he runs with it in a sling), but Schulz refuses to let that diminish his dream of greatness.
Andreas’ father, Andy, had taken his two sons for what was supposed to be an enjoyable Father’s Day weekend of four-wheeling and family on a relative’s 300-acre spread in West Virginia. Instead, the holiday turned into a parent’s worst nightmare.
Andreas had been roaming the mountain country alone on his ATV, trying to find better cellphone service higher on the mountain. As he made his way back down, at a sharp left turn, the ATV crashed into a tree. Andreas catapulted over the handlebars.
“Right away, I had a loss of breath, like all the wind was knocked out of me, but times a million. It took a while for me to get my breath back,” Andreas said. “After that, I had so much adrenaline and everything that I was just more focused on wanting to get to the top of the mountain so someone could see me and find me.”
As it turned out, he didn’t have to go back up.
“Luckily, my phone stayed in my pocket. … So I pulled out my phone, and I called my dad and the craziest part of the whole thing was, I was going to the top of the mountain to get data and everything. But somehow in the area where it crashed, there was signal,” Andreas said.
“Dad, come quick,” Andreas recalled telling his father. After he convinced his father he wasn’t joking about the crash, Andreas said, his father rushed to find him. His grandparents followed quickly after, and called 911.
Initially, Andreas said, he hoped he might have a broken collarbone and nothing more severe.
He learned later that his grandmother, a former nurse, knew immediately when she saw him that the injury was much worse.
“My dad told me that apparently she knew right away. She was like, ‘his arm is paralyzed.’ She thought of it right away because she’s seen injuries like this before,” Andreas said.
Andres’s mother, Kelly Schulz, the public-information officer for Volusia County Schools, recalled the morning of the crash and the undeniable sixth sense she had felt at home.
“I woke up out of a dead sleep that morning and just had a really bad feeling,” Kelly Schulz said. “I called my husband and he said, ‘Oh, everything’s fine. We got in last night, and today is gonna be a great day. … Dre just took a four-wheeler up the mountain. He has his helmet on, don’t worry.’ And then he goes, ‘Hold on, I gotta go. Dre’s calling.’ And that was when he said Dre had crashed.”
It was a tense time for Kelly Schulz until she got a follow-up call from her husband.
“He finally called me from the ambulance and said, ‘We’re in the ambulance. He’s alive. He’s scraped up. … Man, but I really think he’s got some broken bones.’ And I thought, oh my gosh. I literally fell to my knees and started crying, because I know he’s a huge athlete.”
From the hospital, Andy Schulz called his wife again, expressing disbelief that Andreas had not broken his arm. At that point, they were aware of a fractured rib and a fracture in his spine, but, as far as Kelly Schulz knew, those things would heal quickly.
Unfortunately, the family soon found out his injuries were much worse.
Andreas was diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury that resulted from his collision with the tree and the direct impact on his shoulder.
The brachial plexus — a network of nerves in the shoulder — is responsible for sending signals from the spinal cord to the arm and hand. The collision had ripped out all three nerves from his spine, Kelly Schulz said, ending communication from the spine to the arm, and leaving Andreas with no movement in his left arm from the elbow down.
Hearing the news, Andreas’ heart sank in anticipation of what his football, basketball, and track and field future would look like with such an injury.
“It was crazy. Because actually, the doctor, the first thing he said when he came in, he goes, ‘You’re never gonna play football again.’ Like he told me straight up, ‘You’re never going to play contact sports again.’ So that was, obviously, really tough to hear,” Andreas said.
Surgery was scheduled for October 2020. Andreas spent the months in pain and disappointment, home from school and no longer able to participate in many of the things that had kept him motivated and driven.
As the fall football season approached, it was even harder knowing he would no longer be able to play the sport he was so passionate about.
“That was probably, I’d say, the hardest time of my life, because literally all I did was sit on the couch, and I was just in pain. I couldn’t do anything,” Andreas said. “So it was really hard. It was hard to see all my friends and stuff that are doing, like, active things, because that’s all I wanted to do.”
Kelly Schulz detailed the events of the surgery, proving just how astonishing Andreas’ accomplishments have been since then.
In the hope of re-establishing motion in his fingers, surgeons removed inner leg muscle from Andreas’ right leg and relocated it to his left arm. They also removed a nerve from the leg to run between his shoulder muscle and wrist. Scars remain on his leg, arms, and chest.
“That’s what even makes the story to me even more amazing is that he won the state title and everything. So is the fact that he can run without one of his leg muscles,” his mother said.
Although pain is still present, Andreas said the surgery did relieve some nerve pain, even if only slightly.
“I still have the nerve pain, but it’s definitely gotten a lot better. And one of the things that helps with the pain is exercise, including track, because it just keeps my mind off of it and your body releases endorphins when you exercise, which is one of the biggest healing mechanisms for nerve pain,” he said.
After spending the first two quarters of the 2020-21 school year at home, Andreas returned to University High School in January. After seeing friends participate in track and field, he decided to join in.
“I was like, why not give it a shot? Even if I’m not going to be good or anything, let me try to do it. And then once I started doing that I just progressed from there,” Andreas said. “It was hard at first, because obviously it was like, slower and everything. But by the end of the season, my times were better this year than they were last year. So, I improved.”
As Andreas crossed the finish line strides ahead of two opponents, his heart leapt with joy. Andreas said he was filled with a new sense of accomplishment — and adrenaline.
Andreas said his main goal was to get the best time he’d ever run.
“My goal was to run a 23, which kind of sucks because I ran a 24.05. But yeah, I was really close. But I was really happy with my race and it was fun,” Andreas said.
Having run previous ambulatory events where he was the only competitor, Andreas said he also enjoyed having others on the track.
“Your times are obviously better if you’re going to get pushed by other people. Even if they’re not going to run a faster time than you, it still gives you something to run against,” he said.
“It was something like I wouldn’t have believed if you told me a few months before, so it was really awesome to hear. It just showed me that hard work pays off,” Andreas said.
Kelly Schulz’s support for Andreas has been continuous, and her pride overflows.
“I’m not sure how many of us would handle something like that, just knowing that you’re now in a special event because you have an injury, like a lifelong injury,” Kelly Schulz said, tears filling her eyes. “I’ve cried every single time he ran in the ambulatory. Actually since he’s been back, I cry every race. … I was so proud and so full of pride and so happy.”
Andreas has already begun to train for an invitational in two weeks, and a follow-up surgery is planned.
Although movement from his elbow down will not return because of the loss of the three nerves, Kelly Schulz said, there is hope that other damaged nerves will heal and allow him to bend his elbow.
Andreas hopes to get fast enough to run in the Junior Olympics or the Paralympics after high school.
“I really enjoy it, and it shows me I could still play sports, which is all I really care about. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, it could have been something else, and I still would have loved it,” he said.