Mallon starts foundation with mother
Tommy Mallon no longer needs a neck halo. The former Santa Fe Christian student, who broke his neck during a lacrosse game last year, has not only shed the neck brace but is now attending college at the University of San Diego, something his mother did not think he would be able to do just months ago.
"I am thrilled, beyond ..." said Tommy's mother Beth Mallon, searching for words. "I am so grateful, it's unbelievable."
The mother and her son are now working hard through their new foundation, Advocates for Injured Athletes, to educate and help fellow athletes who suffer from spinal or neck injuries, concussions and heat illness.
"With something so horrible, you just have to turn it into helping others," Beth said.
The Mallons recently testified at two summits in Sacramento in January, one the National Athletic Trainers Association summit on the Youth Sports Safety Crisis in America, and one for the California Athletic Trainers Association.
"I am committed to help other athletes have the same level of protection on athletic fields," Tommy said at the Sacramento summit. "I feel it is my responsibility to promote the importance of having an athletic trainer on the field."
Beth and Tommy believe the decisions made by Rikki Kirchhoff, the certified athletic trainer on the field the day of his accident, helped save his life.
"Does every high school know who is taking care of their kids?" Beth said.
Beth's question is even more important to ask here as California is one of only four states in the United States that does not mandate that a certified trainer be on the field at high velocity, contact sports. Joining California are West Virginia, Hawaii and Alaska.
The Mallons are working to help pass a new bill in California for titled protection.
"Anybody in California can currently call themselves an athletic trainer and there's nothing in the state legislation that says they can't," said Mike West of the California Athletic Trainers Association.
The overall athletic safety bill, AB1647, would require that schools have certified athletic trainers and that a doctor's clearance is needed before a child returns to play after a concussion.
Governor Arnold Schwarz-enegger has vetoed two previous bills that proposed mandating schools have a certified trainer. The soonest this bill could be passed is September.
"Before Tommy was injured I just assumed there was a certified trainer. I didn't even think," Beth said.
The day that forever changed Tommy's life was May 23, 2009. During a lacrosse game against Poway High School, Tommy took a hit and broke his neck at C-1, the first vertebra where the skull and the spine connect.
After the hit, Tommy thought he could walk it off and continue playing.
"If I had gotten up to 'walk it off' I most likely would have died," Tommy told the summit in January. "The athletic trainer's decision on that day saved my life and saved my neurological function."
Tommy said the months following his accident have been the hardest of his life. He has been challenged to learn to walk again, to endure the physical pain of a halo screwed into his skull, and the emotional pain of never being able to play sports again. Additionally, the Mallon family deeply felt the loss of 16-year-old Santa Fe Christian student Will Wardrip, who died in a car accident in October.
The Wardrip family asked that donations be made in Will's name to the Mallons' Advocates for Injured Athletes foundation. While the foundation is still awaiting its 501c3 status, the foundation is starting out with strong assets, thanks to Will.
Beth said they hope that funds raised can be used to help supplement schools that cannot afford to have a certified trainer or, at least, put coaches through safety education programs.
Tommy has very little range of motion, he does physical therapy for his legs and hips only and cannot do any weight-bearing activity. He was cleared to drive his own car and since his accident he has been able to be close to the games he loves, working as an assistant basketball coach at Santa Fe Christian, and soon he will be serving as an assistant to the USD lacrosse team.
Tommy has been a student at USD for about three weeks now and both mother and son are enjoying their independence. Last week, Beth said she was able to go running on the beach for the first time in nine months.
"We are both getting our lives back," Beth said. "We were together constantly for nine months so I miss him. But then I think about the alternative."
For more information visit www.injuredathletes.org.