March 26, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- You can’t blame Wisconsin’s star-crossed quarterback, Jon Budmayr, for wondering if someone has been sticking pins in a voodoo doll of his likeness -- pricking his elbow and throwing shoulder recurringly throughout the past year.
That thought actually crossed his mind a few months ago when the 21-year-old Budmayr was seemingly making significant progress in his rehab to the point where he was able to “put in countless hours of time’’ throwing a football and watching film.
“And just out of the blue one day, it all stops,’’ he said.
Or starts up again; suspending his recovery, posing more questions and further clouding his future as a college football player. In addition to the neurological issues with his arm and shoulder, he has been dealing with a hip injury since January.
Reduced to stiffly dragging his right leg to walk, he admitted the labrum pain has been more unbearable than anything else that he has experienced. But it hasn’t distracted him from dwelling 24/7 on the real source of his frustration: the unknown.
“Unfortunately I’ve become a little bit of a case study,’’ he said.
Since the nerve problems in his right elbow emerged last August during the UW’s training camp -- resulting in surgery and sidelining him for the 2011 season -- Budmayr has seen specialists in Madison and Ohio and, most recently, Michigan.
“I just got back from Michigan last night (Friday) and the specialists I saw there were great guys -- very thorough and genuine -- and they gave us their best input on what they thought was going on,’’ said Budmayr, whose next stop is the Mayo Clinic.
“I head up to Mayo (in Rochester, Minn.) on Monday to hopefully search for some more answers and see what they have to offer -- hopefully we’ll keep taking steps forward towards diagnosis and treatment.’’
How would he best describe what has been going on with his throwing arm?
“Honestly, it’s too complex for me to describe,’’ he said.
But he provided a Cliff Note’s version.
“It’s something going on with the nerves in my shoulder,’’ he explained, “which is affecting some of the muscles which allow me to do things -- football functioning and even daily functioning things; like the muscles that allow me to reach my arm above my head.
“I’ve seen a lot of specialists,’’ he continued, “a lot of smart people, so you have to imagine an answer is going to come sooner rather than later. That’s why it was comforting hearing as much as we did the last couple of days in Michigan.
“To hear them talk confidently about what they thought it was -- they’re pretty honed in on what it is -- gives us hope going to Mayo that they can confirm and we can move forward with the best treatment options. I just have to be positive with it.’’
Positive and patient.
“That’s a big word, but patience is the key,’’ Budmayr stressed. “It takes incredible patience. As tough as it has been going through this, the nice thing is that it’s a life lesson. I hope it helps me down the road with my family and the career paths I choose.’’
What is Budmayr’s immediate goal?
“My goal is to play again -- that’s my hope, that’s my dream and I’m not going to give up on that,’’ he said with a resoluteness that belies all his setbacks. “I was raised a certain way by my parents and I’ve lived a certain lifestyle this far.
“I know God has a plan for me and I know it’s going to be great, whatever the outcome, whether it’s playing or not playing. But it’s my dream to play college football; I’m not giving up on that.
“No doctors have told me that I can’t overcome this and play again.’’
But he also knows that he has to be smart and realistic.
“There’s obviously a lot of concern when it comes to neurological things,’’ he said. “It’s not like a broken bone, which you can just fix. I have to be smart and take everybody’s input. At the same time, I can’t look at it as ‘I’m done’ because then my mindset falls apart.
“Right now, my mindset is on getting healthy.
“Once I get healthy, it’s about getting my mind right again to play football.’’
There is another layer to all of this.
“Staying on top of my school work,’’ he said.
That has been problematic because of all the traveling to see specialists.
“I made the decision this past week to take a lighter (course) load and hopefully that helps out,’’ said Budmayr, a sociology major. “Once the treatments start -- and we don’t know what that will be -- I will still be on pace to graduate when I want.’’
Dropping credits will limit Budmayr’s participation with his teammates and the coaching staff. For now, it’s an unavoidable sacrifice. He has already met new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada, and “he’s a tremendous guy,’’ Budmayr said.
“As soon as I get healthy enough,’’ he added, “I just want to be around the whole new staff and get to know these guys and get a feel for them and contribute in any way that I can. Until then, I’m basically on my own.
“We would hope that within the next couple of months or so we would know what the outcome is going to eventually be. I’m hoping and praying they will say I can come back and play. If I can’t, I will prepare myself -- at that time -- for moving forward.’’
How stressful has this been on Budmayr?
“It’s been difficult,’’ he said. “I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been. But my parents instilled in me at a young age those core values. I’m just so thankful; I thank God every day for those people in my life. When you have someone to talk to, it makes it a lot easier.’’
There has been an awakening for Budmayr during his fact-finding mission.
“In some of the hospitals I’ve been to,’’ he said, “I’ve seen people fighting for their lives, so it really puts things in perspective. I want to get healthy but this (football) is still a game. This may seem big, but it’s not the biggest thing in the world.’’
You can understand why coach Bret Bielema is so committed to seeing this through with Budmayr, a character-rich junior from Woodstock, Ill. You can understand too why so many are pulling for Budmayr to find those answers and a piece of mind, if nothing else.
“I can’t say enough about how helpful Coach B has been,’’ Budmayr said.
He also can’t say enough about all the other campus influences on his life.
“You really commit to a school because of so many different aspects besides football,’’ Budmayr said. “But with what I’ve gone through, it has really proven why I chose Wisconsin. The support staff here is unbelievable.’’
Budmayr is now hoping to hear what he wants to hear at the Mayo Clinic. “That’s the next big step,’’ he said. “I’m still optimistic right now that’s it’s going to work out.’’