ATLANTA -- Lee Killian knows it may be a while, if ever, before he returns to the baseball diamond. So he found a new sport to keep him occupied.
The former Clover High standout pitcher has become an ace beach volleyball player while recovering from a wreck that took away the use of his legs.
"I can't spike it yet, but I'll get there one day," said Lee, now in medical rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. "I'm already getting better as I get stronger."
On May 21, Lee lost control of his Chevy pickup truck and slammed into a utility pole. He remembers driving to the right and overcorrecting, but that's all he knows about the night that changed his life.
He was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center, where he went through surgeries for his back, neck and face. In addition to paralyzing the lower half of his body, the crash left him with a crushed cheekbone and busted blood vessels in his forehead. The floor of his eye socket caved in. He couldn't move his arms or fingers. He needed help breathing and eating. And he didn't talk for days.
But all that made him stronger.
"He's a fighter," said his mom, Robin Killian, a third-grade teacher at Griggs Road Middle School in Clover.
A family fight
The family left Charlotte on May 31 to seek treatment at the Shepherd Center, a private, nonprofit hospital that specializes in treatment of spinal chord injuries and multiple trauma.
"We had to go where we thought there was any hope for recovery," said Robin Killian.
When they arrived, Lee was on a ventilator and eating through feeding tubes. By the end of that weekend, he was breathing on his own and eating solid food. He was talking again, smiling and laughing.
"To see that smile come back to his face -- it was priceless," Robin Killian said.
But on June 7, doctors delivered a blow when they told Lee he has no chance of walking again.
"For Lee, coming out of that consultation, it was devastation," Robin Killian said. "He said, 'Mom, what could be worse?'"
She reminded him he still had a mind. She told him at least he can communicate with the family and friends who've included Lee in their daily prayers.
"Then he looked at me and said, 'I have a lot of friends, right? I'm not gonna let them down. I'll get better,'" she said.
Learning to adjust
At the Shepherd Center, Lee gets around in a wheelchair made to fit his long legs and skinny body. The chair took a little adjustment at first, but now he's doing just fine.
"Check it out, I'm going off-roading," Lee said Friday as he rolled off a stone pathway and into the grass in the Shepherd Center's courtyard.
He spends his days in physical therapy and watching ESPN, although he admits it's sometimes hard to watch baseball. He plays volleyball in the gym.
Friday, a group of baseball buddies -- Cort and Will Hall, Hank Wofford, Brooks McCarter and Sam Brown -- came down from Clover to hang out with Lee for the afternoon. They filled him in on the American Legion team and kicked back to watch baseball and golf on television.
"He's still the same ol' Lee," Hank said.
Preparing for the future
Lee is expected to go through medical consultation for another six to eight weeks. Then, he'll move into an apartment across the street and continue rehabilitation through a day program for another four to six weeks. College plans have been put on hold.
His family's happy he's already thinking about the future. They've been preparing for it, too, by attending caregiver classes so they can take Lee on outings.
"I can't wait to go to an Outback and get a steak, maybe salmon," Lee said.
He also can't wait to get back to Clover.
Dad Jimmy has been talking with contractors about preparing their house for Lee's arrival, in case handicap access is needed.
But Lee said they won't need it.
"I'll be out of this chair by then," he said.