Mind versus matter

Sean O’Brien gingerly hobbled and winced his way off the football field four months ago.

Prone to injuries and chronic knee pain, the Oak Harbor senior knew right away something was different that brisk October night. Not even a two-touchdown, 108-yard rushing performance in the Wildcats’ 54-7 homecoming rout over Mount Vernon eased the throbbing.

Pain ran so deep through O’Brien’s knees, he collapsed walking from a post-game interview to the locker room.

O’Brien, his family and doctor decided something finally needed to be done to combat his chronic pain.

The medical answer was a meniscectomy — a surgical procedure that removes torn meniscus tissue from the knee.

“This was the first time I had knee surgery, but I always had knee problems,” O’Brien said.

The surgery was performed mid-November, one day before Oak Harbor’s first-ever state quarterfinal football game.

And it was no simple process. O’Brien had torn tissue in both his knees, requiring a complete removal of the meniscus in his left and a partial removal in his right.

Forced to watch Oak Harbor’s deepest-ever run into the state playoffs ate the senior up on the inside.

“Sitting on the sidelines and watching them tear up Arlington...I was like I wish that was me out there gaining all those yards and helping the team,” O’Brien said.

His abilities on the field were also greatly missed by the team.

“He just had a straight-ahead running style,” OHHS head coach Dave Ward said. “As long as he was barreling forward it was very hard to bring him down.”

But the pain was too great to return to the field. And with an expected recovery time of three to six months, O’Brien not only thought his football career was over, but his entire Wildcat athletic career.

“Initially I didn’t think I was going to be able to (wrestle),” he said.

For many that might have been the case.

O’Brien, however, refused to go down without a fight.

As a sophomore, he missed an entire wrestling season with wrist injuries. His junior year he was knocked out of the quarterfinals of the 4A state wrestling tournament with a concussion and broken nose.

“Seven years, three months out of each year, and the sacrifices of dieting and working hard, I wasn’t going to sacrifice my senior year and not wrestle,” O’Brien said.

And with that mindset, he didn’t.

Hard work, rehab and credit to a smooth surgery, O’Brien amazingly worked his way back onto the mat by late December.

“I wasn’t surprised,” OHHS head coach wrestling Mike Crebbin said. “I knew how much he wanted to return to wrestling, so I knew he would do the work needed to return.”

Facing a daily routine of icing, riding an exercise bike and taking lots of Ibuprofin, O’Brien started his dual meet season at a perfect 5-0.

“At the beginning they felt horrible...,” said O’Brien, of his knees. “But I had to go all out, it’s my senior year.”

With continued determination, O’Brien battled through his pain into the post-season tournaments. He took the Western Conference title at the divisional tournament, before clinching Oak Harbor’s only state berth with a second place finish in the 4A Region I tournament last weekend.

His state berth, however, didn’t come without consequence.

In O’Brien’s 171-pound regional title match against last year’s 140-pound state champ, Kurt Swartz of Auburn, he separated a rib.

“I was throwing a move, overexcerted and separted my left rib,” O’Brien said.

Now he doesn’t only have to battle his knees at today’s Mat Classic finals in Tacoma, but has a fresh pain in his side.

“He’s going to be tender now,” said Oak Harbor athletic trainer, Dan Patzer. “Whether it restricts him is mind over matter.”

Four years of hard work and one last chance to place at state, O’Brien said he has the mental part under control.

As for the physical part.

“If it’s not killing me, then I’m going for it,” he said.

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