It was one of those freak accidents. Falling off a chair. Slipping on the ice. Shutting a drawer on your pinky finger. Smashing into a tree while skiing in Colorado.

Eric Lisle never saw it coming, the tree or the final season of his high school baseball career snuffed away so strangely, so painfully.

They were both there, his legs that is, strong and sturdy, just days before departing on the ski trip to Colorado with a school group called The Outdoor Adventure Club. He was working on some hitting drills, the muscles, the ligaments bulging from the effort. Weeks before, his baseball coach, Chris Ledbetter, expressed concerns about some of his players going on a ski trip in the off-season. Lisle assured his coach he’d be careful.

But you can’t be careful from the freak stuff.

Lisle is a good skier. He’s no beginner. No slouch. No dumb-dumb either. He and fellow teammate Eric Frisch decided to take a ski lift up to another intermediate course. It didn’t turnout to be another intermediate course, and Lisle just wanted off of this slope as quickly and as safely as possible.

“I got to a point where I just wanted to fall down so I could stop,” he said. “But when I did fall I just kept tumbling.”

He tumbled right into a tree. The pain told him it was bad. The sight of his right leg told him it was worse than that. His leg, from the toe to the knee, was twisted in an awkward 90-degree angle.

“I was terrified, first for my life and second that I might have to lose my leg.”

Paramedics couldn’t move Lisle because his leg was “basically dangling.” They had to set it back into place right there on the side of that darn slope, next to that pesky tree.

“It was without a doubt the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced and I ever want to experience in my life,” said Lisle of the resetting. “It’s indescribable.”

He was transported to a hospital, and then to another. He was nearly airlifted to Denver. Severe injuries to a leg such as this usually entail a rupture of the artery. Luckily, the artery in Lisle’s leg didn’t tear, although nearly everything else did, including his MCL, PCL and ACL. He also fractured his left leg, but that, he says, “feels more like a sprain.”

Lisle didn’t wait long to call his baseball coach. He wanted Ledbetter to hear about the injury straight from him.

“I got a call Sunday night at 11:45 p.m. and Eric told me what had happened,” explained Ledbetter. “To be honest, at first I was a little disappointed. Eric is such a tough kid he never let on to how bad the injury was. That sense of disappointment changed as soon as I found out this was a kid who went from unlucky to lucky. It was an unfortunate accident that turned out to be fortunate in that something worse didn’t happen.”

“I’m devastated,” said Lisle when asked what it felt like knowing he would miss his final season. But the 18-year-old isn’t feeling sorry for himself. “I may not be able to make a contribution on the field but I will somehow off of it. That team means a lot to me, and, yeah, it’ll be hard to watch from the sideline, but I’ll be there to support them.”

Lisle’s going to be okay physically and mentally. Let me tell you why. You see, his life hasn’t been driven by athletics. He has already been accepted to Michigan and Illinois on the merits of his academics alone. He currently holds a grade point average of 4.3, weighted with honors classes. Heck, he may even graduate early to speed up the rehab. And who knows, you may see him on a baseball field again someday.

Sometimes a freak accident happens to those who can handle it.


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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...