If San Jose State junior reserve safety Neil Parry fulfills his vow to line up on the Spartans' kickoff team this season, opposing return men and blockers had best beware. Parry may well be unstoppable.
Consider his life since Oct. 14, 2000, the day he suffered a gruesome injury at Spartan Stadium when a teammate rolled onto Parry's right leg during a kickoff against Texas-El Paso. Parry broke two bones and suffered artery and nerve damage; a subsequent infection forced doctors to amputate the limb three inches below the knee. Since then Parry has endured 20 additional surgeries, a dangerous blood clot, bone spurs that developed from his leg's rubbing against his prosthesis and months of painful rehabilitation—all without giving up his dream of rejoining his team. Then last week, as he was starting to believe his goal was within his grasp, Mutual of Omaha, which covers much of his medical care through the NCAA, informed him that his insurance would be canceled if he ever played football again. "When the insurance thing came up," Parry says, "I really thought that might be the end of the comeback."
Parry couldn't afford to risk losing his coverage: His medical costs following the injury could reach $1.5 million, including $15,000 every two years for a new prosthesis. But Parry was determined and instantly knew, he says, that he was going to fight the decision. What surprised him was the flurry of media coverage and support he received. Last Thursday, a day after Parry met with Mutual of Omaha and the NCAA to make his case, the insurance company reversed itself and said it would continue Parry's coverage, even if he returns to the field. "There was an understanding that this was the right thing to do," NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro said.
With the insurance issue resolved, Parry can now concentrate on becoming the first non-kicker to play major college football with a prosthetic leg. Each day he grows more accustomed to a specially designed fiberglass and graphite foot that allows him to sprint remarkably quickly and smoothly. (He runs the 40 in 4-8 seconds.) Parry knows he still has a long road ahead of him. He has been practicing with the team since summer workouts began and wants to improve his conditioning. Parry and coach Fitz Hill have set no date for the return, although the Sept. 28 home opener would be fitting—the opponent will be Texas-El Paso. "Right now, I'm not ready, but I will be," Parry says. Given all he's been through, who can doubt him?