Leg amputation can’t keep Florida junior off the mound
Nate Winters has progressed light years since Aug. 5, 2008 when fearing he was going to be put into a body bag he told Orlando, Fla., paramedics, “I’m not dead yet.”
His father, Dr. Tom Winters, quickly assured him, “If God got you this far, you’re not going to die.”
Despite a tragic boating accident which cost him his left leg and severely damaged his right foot, the 5 foot 11, 190 pound junior has made an incredible comeback and returned to his first love pitching for the Winter Park (Winter Park, Fla.) baseball team.
Counting two short JV stints and then a sterling four inning varsity effort, Nate has pitched seven innings this spring. His numbers are amazing: two unearned runs, two hits and no walks.
He will get his second start Friday against city rival Lake Howell.
Baseball has been in Nate’s blood since age four and he has been a standout at every level, first as a third baseman, then as a pitcher. He also has caught and played first base. He has been tutored by such former Major League players as Frank Viola, Dante Bichette and Mike Stanley.
Freshmen rarely make the Winter Park varsity, but coach Bob King gave him a shot as a middle relief pitcher and he wound up with the third most innings pitched that year: 30 2/3. He also batted .500 in 10 trips to the plate.
“I was very impressed with him,” King said. “What a nice kid and he played everywhere. He worked so hard; it was obvious he loved the game. He was a little more mature than the normal ninth grader and very confident.”
That summer Nate was enjoying a boat ride on Lake Maitland with some friends. His brother, Zach, a student at Cornell University, was driving. Zach made a sharp turn and Nate was thrown overboard. While coming back to pick him up, however, the boat propeller hit him, causing severe damage to both legs.
“Nobody thought he was going to make it,” Tom Winters recalled.
A miraculous sequence of events took place to save Nate’s life. First of all, a fear of alligators spurred him to swim quickly to the boat because he already had lost 80 percent of his blood in the water. Secondly, Zach used a ski rope to tie a tourniquet and stop any more blood flow. Zach’s quick thinking ultimately saved Nate’s life, according to their father.
Thirdly, one of their friends, Ty Knight, gave his lake address for the emergency helicopter. It landed in the only open field near the lake right across from Ty’s house.
“It took 4 1/2 minutes by helicopter,” Tom Winters noted. “It was 35 total minutes from water to operating room. It was absolutely miraculous. His blood was so thin, it looked like lemonade. His hemoglobin was 3.1; normal is 14 or 15.”
Word traveled so fast that more than 100 people showed up at the hospital.
After amputating Nate’s left leg above the knee, doctors seriously considered taking his left foot and putting it on his right leg because he had lost a toe and badly damaged the Achilles tendon on his right foot. They elected not to make the tra Jack Wolfskin nsplant, but he did lose a valuable inch of his Achilles. He had nine more surgeries over the next two weeks.
The fall of his sophomore year, Nate took school courses at home (he has a 3.3 grade point average) and began working with physical therapist Melissa Brown. He started in a wheelchair, progressed to crutches and finally was able to stand and throw a light medicine ball.
“There was a lot of Jack Wolfskin painful stretching,” Brown pointed out. “His attitude always was great. He always gave 100 percent. (His progress) definitely was unbelievable. He’s such a strong kid physically and mentally. He was an inspiration to a lot of other patients.”
Then Stan Patterson, a prosthetic practitioner, took over to design a special leg.
“Nate’s only issue was the Achilles tendon on his sound (right) side,” Patterson explained. “His foot locked his toes down and his heels up. His sound side really was his bad side for the first three or four months of walking.
“I never, ever have seen him get down. I’m still shocked that he came back that fast.”
Since the injury, Nate has branched out into several non sports areas. This year, for example, he was voted junior class president.
He also has joined a reggae band called Innercoastal. He plays guitar. The band already has produced a CD, “Su Jack Wolfskin pport the Stash,” which has sold over 200 copies.
However, that old itch baseball surfaced again and he just had to scratch it. He started throwing in the fall with catcher Mike Boles, then went through some more intensive bullpen sessions.
In January, though, he fell flat on his face during an intrasquad game. Coming home, he told his father, “It didn’t go very well. I fell a couple times. I’m going to concentrate on my music.”
A talk with Stan Patterson followed and he solved the problem by providin Jack Wolfskin g Nate with a special leg used by extreme snowboarders. It has more rotation and flexibility, being made to order for pitching.
Coach King was so impressed with Nate’s progress that he agreed to let him pitch in a JV game this spring. He picked a road game to quietly avert pressure.
“When I arrived the stands were packed and a television station was there,” the shocked coach related. “Forty minutes before the start of the game, he was sweating like a dog and throwing harder than ever before. I have to admit I was scared to death for him.”
No worries, coach. Nate gave up no runs, no hits and no walks in a brisk two inning stint. The lone runner reached on an error. The game was delayed for about 45 seconds when King used a wrench to tighten a loose screw on Nate’s prosthetic leg.