MISSOULA- He doesn’t remember getting hit in the head with a baseball bat, an attack that nearly killed him.
But Special Olympics athlete Gary Fuller will never forget the friends that helped him make a comeback.
The news shocked all of us — Gary Fuller, one of the most inspirational athletes from Special Olympics had been attacked with a baseball bat, putting him in a Missoula hospital fighting for his life.
The assault left him clinging to life in the hospital, with family and friends not sure whether he would survive, or even be himself after his ordeal.
“I remembering sitting on the couch holding my head. And then I heard a female freaking out about something. I didn’t know exactly what. Then after that I heard my name from a male’s voice asking me questions. From there I don’t remember until I opened my eyes and I was in the ICU,” Fuller says.
Gary remembers little about that unexpected confrontation with a friend last summer.
“Before I opened my eyes I was hearing voices. And then I opened my eyes and looked around and that’s when nurses and my family told me what happened to me,” he recalled.
“For several days there is was iffy on whether he would survive. And when we were fairly certain he was going to survive, is it going to be Gary when he comes out of this?” Gary’s father, David Fuller, said.
“The not knowing is the hardest. When you don’t know if they’re going to wake up. And when they do wake up, are they going to know who you are?” Gary’s mother, Judy Fuller said. “Are they going to remember anybody or anything of their life with a head injury?”
But like his has throughout his life, Gary’s determination, and the support from his first responder friends made all the difference. After eight days of intensive therapy, he was on the mend.
“From there I’ve been doing my normal life again,” Gary told MTN News.
“Everybody was just terrific. And of course, Gary knew some of them,” laughed David.
“And God bless them. For all that they do. And they didn’t take just Gary into consideration,” Judy said. “They reached out to Dad and I, and to his sister. I mean it was just really overwhelming and so, so grateful for it.”
“I feel like I’ve got my strength back. But it’s not strong like it was before. But it’s gettin’ there,” Gary said.
In fact, for many of us, the first time seeing Gary back in action was during the Winter Games at Lost Trail Pass in January, not only competing but falling back into his role of encouraging and motivating his fellow athletes.
“I think it was great for them to see me back. I mean even everybody,” Gary told MTN news. “I mean just seeing them, being there for everybody, even with me, it’s just a blessing.”
“This showed us how many friends our son had. That were true friends,” Judy stated. “People from Special Olympics, oh my God, all of them. Not just the athletes, but their parents. And we learned so much. And it’s so much easier to give and want to do more because of our son.”
Maybe in the greater scheme of things, that’s the lesson Gary Fuller is teaching all of us.
“I’m ready to get back at it and do my best,” Gary said. “Let me win. But if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt!”
This weekend, members of the Law Enforcement Torch Run will pay special tribute to Gary and his family at the run’s kickoff at Fairmont Hot Springs.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News