By Bill Toscano
Less than a year after hearing there was an 85 percent chance he’d never walk again, Dan Bishop strode confidently across the Whitehall Central School gym, ready to play his role in the Section II, Class D wrestling tournament.
Bishop, a 2005 Whitehall graduate, had played a different role here before, winning this tournament and going on to become one of the Railroaders’ three New York state champions.
On this particular Saturday evening, he and 1992 state champion Jamie Huntington were there to hand out awards to the 15 champions and other place winners.
Four of those champs were Whitehall wrestlers themselves, and they knew his story. The other wrestlers, all in one way or another, got the word about just what a big deal the 127-pound young man with the cauliflower ear was.
“I feel great,” said Bishop, who was critically injured March 6, 2010, during the Mid-American Conference semi-finals, when his opponent threw him and he landed, breaking his neck and waking up in a hospital bed.
Bishop was leading Ohio University’s Gabe Ramos, 4-0, when an illegal throw left him with a broken neck and a serious spinal cord injury.
“They told me that there was an 85 percent chance I would never walk again. I said, ‘No, that’s not going to happen. I will walk again,’ he remembered. “I was just determined. I have always been determined. When I start something, I am going to finish it.”
After 12 days in the hospital in Michigan, Bishop started the rehabilitation process, graduated from the University of Buffalo and has his mind set on running the new Rochester office of Braendel Painting and Services, where he works.
He’s also getting back into shape, after dropping from his wrestling weight of 125 pounds to 114 following the freak accident.
“I’ve got to train twice as hard now,” he said. “At first I could only do a half-pushup, then a modified pushup, and now I am doing 25 at a time,” he said. “It’s hard work, and I put in a lot of hours. I am working out six days a week.”
Bishop, who lives in Buffalo, said he is starting a rugged training program called P90X and will continue to strive to get back where he was.
“I am at 90 percent now,” he said. “You look at me from the outside, and I look just like I was. There are some internal issues, but I am coming back.”
Bishop is quick to thank all of those who have helped him. His parents spent the entire time in Michigan with him, and his father, Norm, was proudly wearing a University of Buffalo jacket at the wrestling meet. His classmates, from both schools, and his friends and others in both Buffalo and Whitehall were behind him all that way.
That support from Whitehall got him thinking.
“I didn’t appreciate this town before,” he said. “I just wanted to get out of here. But when I needed help, the people in this town were here. This is a tight-knit community, and people don’t appreciate it.”
While he plans to make his life in western New York, Bishop keeps his local roots strong and was happy to help out as part of the tournament.
One major regret
There’s one thing Bishop will always wonder about.
Had he won the bout, he would have qualified for the NCAA Division I national championship tournament and would have had a shot at a national title.
“I worked so hard for that, then ‘Boom!’ I break my neck and I have the toughest fight of my life coming back.”
Very shortly after the accident, doctors sent him to the operating room, during which the two vertebrae were fused and a metal plate and permanent screws out in to support his spine. He did his rehabilitation work in Schenectady, recovering from the spinal-record injury, and came back home to Whitehall in mid-February.
Time to give back
Bishop acknowledges that he’s fortunate to be where he is and enjoys telling his story.
“It’s time to give back,” said Bishop, who recovered enough to walk across the stage in May and receive his diploma. “This was not a good situation, and I turned it into a good situation.”
He returned to the school to speak to the 500-member incoming freshman class. “That was pretty wild,” he said. “I have spoken to camps and to some teams. I enjoy doing it.”
Bishop says he enjoys the speaking engagements enough that he may well continue doing it.
It’s not something he expected.
But then, some doctors expected he’d never walk again.