By Matt Hill
It has been a very rough few months for two Unicoi County High School standout athletes, but the light at the end of tunnel is in reach for Ethan Rice and Chelsey Harness.
Rice plays basketball and baseball for the Blue Devils while Harness plays volleyball and has a deep passion for basketball. Both kids went through different injures that required serious medical procedures.
In the process, both fought it well and became better people and do not take for granted the health they have and the chance to play athletics at Unicoi County High School.
RICE FACES DANGER AND OVERCOMES
This past spring while playing baseball for the Devils, Rice started having severe shoulder problems and it forced him away from the pitchers mound and on to a DH role or in the outfield.
Rice had things checked out and the dreaded words "Tommy John surgery" were told to him. It is a rare procedure named after a former New York Yankees pitcher.
He had the surgery in June and it looked like he might have missed this entire baseball season. Rice though, went to the best and coupled with prayer from the Blue Nation faithful and a willingness to work to get back, here he is getting ready to start against Science Hill on Thursday night in the Hall of Champions opener.
"We went down to Pensacola, FL to Dr. James Andrews and he took a ligament out of my forearm and place it in my elbow and that is about it."
If the Andrews name is familiar, it is because he has worked on several notable athletes, including one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Tom Brady from the New England Patriots.
This definitely made Rice feel a lot easier about the procedure.
"He has worked on everybody and for me to go down there and get operated by him was pretty cool."
Even going to the one of the top doctors in the country, the recovery time was scheduled to be long. As time went on, Rice kept getting better and in September he was released to play basketball and he can pitch most of the season next year.
"I did everything I was supposed to do and the Erwin physical therapy department did a great job as far as getting me where I need to be," Rice said. "I was their first Tommy John patient and they did a good job with me."
Being in the lineup on opening day of the basketball season was not expected at first, but the news thrilled Rice and also gave a lot of hope and promise to a talented UCHS Boys Basketball team.
"I did not think I would be back until the first of December, so to hear I could start playing at the first of the season was definitely good news for me," he said.
Rice let this sports journalist know very early on after the surgery that the progress was tremendous and that there was not a lot of pain.
This very mild mannered young man kept humble and knew that there was a shot things would go better than the original prognosis.
Rice, who has worked hard in athletics, worked just as hard in trying to get back. In the end, things all paid off.
He is back in sports and he is doing what he loves.
"I was going to therapy two or three times week and now everything is doing well," Rice said.
HARNESS LEARNS LIFE LESSONS THROUGH INJURY
Chelsey Harness probably loves basketball as much as any young lady you will ever meet. However, her life was turned totally upside down around the fourth of July this past summer when she tore her ACL playing AAU Basketball.
Harness requested prayer to all her friends and even local members of the media. Those prayers have seemed to have been answered.
Harness is very close to coming back, but is not quite ready yet. Still though, the recovery from this has been almost miraculous.
"I just kept persevering and doing strength training and running and exercise," Harness said. "That was a key part of it. Everything is going good and the road ahead looks bright. I am ready to play."
When the first diagnosis came out, this season looked like a wash for Harness. Now there is hope and one reason was the determination that Harness showed.
"Everybody thought I was not going to play all season long, but I knew I had it in me that I would get back. I am hoping to only miss six games. That is better than the whole season."
And appropriately enough, the game she is shooting for is against the daughter (Alexis Bowers) of her AAU coach Todd Bowers.
"It will be fun to play with my girls and be able to be back at it," Harness said.
One thing that happened to Harness during this time was leaning more and more on her Christian faith and trusting God in all situations.
Very early on, Harness put her trust in God and she kept that strong faith throughout. Without the Lord in her life, she feels this comeback would not be possible.
"I had to believe in myself, in my doctor and in God that everything would be OK and that everything happened for a reason," Harness said. "It showed me you cannot take anything for granted and that you have to live life to the fullest. You never know when you know it is going to be your last game or your last chance to show everybody what you have."
Harness was also fortunate to have two parents who could relate to this and the rigors of sports. Her mom, Chasity Harness, played on a state tournament basketball team at UCHS and her father, Jimmy, played in a Rose Bowl at the University of Illinois.
They were huge in giving support and pushing her to come this close to getting back into action.
"They have pushed me to be the best athlete and best person I can be," Harness said. "I probably would not have made it through without them. My dad especially, he pushes me every day to get better."
TWO STORIES, SAME OUTCOME
Both of these great young men and women have had to battle a tough road, but it is one where they never gave up, and in the end they have made the Blue Nation proud.
One thing Rice says is that Unicoi County kids are tough. You will not find many tougher than Rice and Harness.
"We are the toughest around for sure," Rice said. "It does not matter what injury you have, if you work hard to get better for whatever time frame you want."
Harness says she can definitely relate to Rice and that two amazing stories makes for something to cherish.
"It is nice to know that you are not alone," Harness said. "God gave me this second chance for a reason. He could have done it to where I could not play again, but he gave it to me and I am going to show people what I have to offer."