On Tuesday of last week, former South Whidbey High School baseball player Colton Wilson spoke to John Gabelein’s fourth-grade class at Coupeville Elementary School. His topic: persevering through hard times.
Wilson was in a unique position to make such a talk. As a high school student, he battled and beat cancer.
His closing message to Gabelein’s students was this: Don’t wait to do good for others because you never know what might happen tomorrow.
Nobody knew how prescient that message would become.
A day after talking to Gabelein’s class, Wilson, who is best known for using his wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to renovate South Whidbey High School’s baseball field five years ago, was involved in a skateboarding accident in Lynnwood, leaving him in a coma and in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“Colton’s story is such a good one and he talked about the fact you don’t know what’s around the corner so give back today,” Gabelein said.
“It’s so unfortunate. One minute he was talking about doing good and how his life was on track and 24 hours later to be in such a different situation.”
Wilson, 21, now lives in Lynnwood. He fell off his skateboard while riding downhill at a high rate of speed along Highway 99 near Shelby Road, landing on the back of his head and breaking a bone in his skull, his sister Stina Wenzek said.
Wilson fell in front of a medical clinic and was airlifted to Harborview within 40 minutes of the accident. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Since the accident, Wilson has undergone three surgeries, one to fix a number of blood vessels in his neck that were damaged in the fall. According to Wenzek, Wilson is breathing on his own and his body is beginning to regulate its own temperature, but he’s still not responsive and doctors are cautious about his prognosis. He’s expected to remain in the Intensive Care Unit for at least six weeks.
“I truly believe a miracle is going to happen,” Wenzek said. “I feel at peace because there are so many people rooting and praying for him.”
Wilson became a media sensation five years ago when he used his wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to renovate the baseball field that he and his South Whidbey teammates played on. The remodeled field was unveiled in front of a large crowd of friends and family on June 15, 2007.
“It says a lot about a kid when he could take a trip to Disneyland or meet Ichiro or Ken Griffey Jr. and instead he decides to build a baseball field for him and his friends,” one of Wilson’s former coaches, Dave Moody, said. “That was just the kind of kid Colton is.”
Wilson, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in July 2006, has been free of cancer for nearly five years. He worked at Azul, a restaurant in Mill Creek, and had just started playing baseball with his brother-in-law Jason Wenzek for the Cobras of the Puget Sound Senior Baseball League. Moody recently ran into Wilson skimboarding on a beach on Whidbey Island and said his former player was excited to be playing the sport he loved again.
“I always urged the boys to continue to play after high school and Colton was really the first to go out and do that,” said Moody, who was an assistant baseball coach at South Whidbey from 2004-11. “It was the first step in a new adventure for him.”
Wilson is the second player from the 2009 South Whidbey baseball team to be involved in a tragic accident in the past eight months. Mick Poynter, who grew up playing baseball with Wilson, died in a car accident in mid-November.
“In a small community like this it hits everybody,” Moody said of the accidents.
Moody remembered talking with Wilson, then a junior in high school, at a Relay for Life event. Upset that he wasn’t going to be able to play baseball later that year because of a surgery, Wilson was discouraged and thinking of giving up the sport. But later in their talk, Moody said, Wilson moved past the disappointment and already was looking forward to the first at-bat of his senior year.
“He was really battling within himself; he was really struggling,” Moody said. “He wasn’t sure if he wanted to try again. But Colton is a competitor and he needs to compete.”
A little more than a year later, Colton was back as a member of the South Whidbey baseball team and part of a senior group that had played together since childhood.
Stina Wenzek chatted with her brother soon after he finished talking to the class at Coupeville Elementary. It was the last time she spoke with him before the accident.
“He was so thrilled that he was almost giggling,” Wenzek wrote in an email to The Herald. “I asked him what he talked to them about and he said, ‘I just told them stories about my life and I talked to them about overcoming obstacles. I showed them my video on (Seattle TV station) KOMO-4 and they thought I was famous so they all asked for my autograph.’
“He kept giggling to himself about that because he thought it was so cute … and I think it made him feel good about himself. He said, ‘Maybe I could become a teacher one day? It seems like a pretty chill job!’”
Wenzek said her brother ended their conversation with his usual farewell: “He always said he loved me every time he said goodbye. … Every time. That was a gift. That was the last time I talked to him.”
The Wilson family is encouraging friends and well-wishers to go to the Facebook pages of Colton Wilson or his mother, Lana Ray Wilson, and leave comments and encouragements. Those who wish to help the family can contact Lana Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lana Ray Wilson posted an open letter to her son, Colton, on Facebook after last Wednesday’s skateboarding accident that left Colton in a coma. Here is that letter:
“My Dearest Colton,
“My dear dear Colton. I love you so much. You are my bear you are my rock you are my sunshine. You bring me happiness. You are wise beyond your years.
“I want you to wake up and look at me and smile. Maybe that is selfish. I want your arms around me so tight. I want to see you running with Angelina.
“I am so glad I got to see you the day before the accident. I am so glad you came … to my work and met my co-workers. I am so glad you asked to borrow my car to speak to the forth (sic) grade class about your cancer and getting through adversity. I am so so happy I got to see you. You were bright and happy. So handsome. My co-workers were so impressed by you. You just have that way with people. “So many people have come to see you. You are so loved. Like Kelsey put it … you do have a special unique relationship with each individual you come across.
“You are my fighter Colton and I need you to fight again. I need you to beat this. I need you to prove the doctors wrong!! I will try to be strong for you. I will try I promise.
“I am not going to believe what we were told! I am going to refuse it!!! I love you Colton! I am so happy we said that to each other often!
“You know me so well Colton you know I will have times. I will. But I need to be strong for you. I know if we believed what we were told you would be pissed!
“I love you Colton Love mom”