Taking it in stridePublished 11:00am Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Pelican Rapids’ junior pitcher A.J. Wroe knew it would be a challenge to get varsity playing time this year among 20 players under new head coach Adam Johnson.
But he has overcome a far greater challenge.
During his freshman year, Wroe, a three-sport athlete, experienced pain in his right leg. He decided to make an appointment with Craig Haugrud at Rehab Plus.
Haugrud didn’t see anything abnormal, but recommended Wroe and his family see a specialist in Fargo, who did an X-ray on his knee.
On the way home, the phone rang.
“I think we were just about home when they called us and told us that we had to come back up to Fargo right away because they had found a tumor in the knee,” Wroe said.
The medical staff and the
Wroes decided to have A.J. travel to the Mayo Clinic and have the cancerous tumor — and part of his leg — removed.
Wroe remembered the feeling of “disbelief” when he heard the news.
Two days after Christmas, Wroe had his leg amputated. The surgery was a success, but it left the young athlete’s dreams of taking the field again in peril. How would he be able to play football, basketball or baseball with only one leg?
Working with Haugrud, Wroe decided to make a comeback in the sport he loves — baseball. Hours of strenuous physical therapy, including getting used to moving with his prosthetic leg, occupied his time. To stay in shape, Wroe played in a sled hockey league in Fargo and even traveled to Philadelphia with a team from the Twin Cities. Roe had a fire to continue to compete and his plan was to return in the spring of 2013.
The stars seemed to align when the Pelican Rapids School hired Johnson, Wroe’s former youth baseball coach.
“A.J. actually was one of our better players coming up before this all happened,” Johnson said. “We just need to get him out there and see what he can do.”
With support from his coach and teammates, Wroe was back in action nearly a year after his surgery.
Due to his mobility, Wroe can no longer play shortstop, working only from the mound. As a right-handed pitcher, the loss of his right leg has stripped his power, but fastballs aren’t everything. Wroe has developed a repertoire of pitches to confuse hitters and has improved his accuracy.
“I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. I’m focusing more on movement, now that I have lost a little bit of the velocity on the mound,” Wroe said.
Wroe’s upbeat demeanor carries weight with the team, his coach said.
“When I’m talking to the team about the game or life in general, A.J. will throw in something like ‘It can all be taken away in a hurry,’ and that helps motivate the guys,” Johnson added. “It is nice to have that first-hand experience in the clubhouse.”
Wroe has yet to see varsity action this season. Working simulated situations in practice and throwing bullpen sessions, Wroe hopes to be ready when he gets the call. Johnson hopes to use him more as Wroe continues to develop his arm strength and gains comfort on the mound.
Considering the circumstances, Wroe has taken his playing situation in stride.
“There are always other people that are going through the same or worse thing than I am going through,” Wroe said. “I want to show them that it isn’t impossible to compete with what you have to deal with.”