Four senior captains will lead Big Blue this fall, as the team aims to capture the Somerset County Championship title.
Sometimes, you literally have to fight through the pain.
Jack Lyons '19, an athlete during his formative years, has been a four-year varsity wrestler, competing in a sport that makes incredible demands on the flexibility and strength of an athlete's body, especially the joints . . . arms and legs go in all sorts of directions. So, it has been particularly challenging for him to continue wrestling when the bones inside those arms and legs have been severely affected by a genetic condition known as multiple epiphyseal dysplasia—a disorder of cartilage and bone development.
"For Jack, this means that he has weakened cartilage in his knees and elbows—indeed, at this point, the cartilage in Jack's knees and elbows is effectively gone. As a result of this, not only are Jack's joints particularly susceptible to injury, but his ability to recover from damage to his ligaments and tendons is severely inhibited by restricted blood flow caused by the disease," said Varsity Wrestling Head Coach and history teacher George Sullivan in his remarks to present Jack with this year's Stifel Award.
The Henry G. Stifel III Award is named for Mr. Stifel, who was paralyzed in an automobile accident during his junior year at Pingry. The Stifel Family established the award at Pingry in 1984 to "be awarded to the person who best exemplifies those characteristics exhibited by Henry G. Stifel III '83 in the aftermath of his accident and spinal injury: courage, endurance, optimism, compassion, and spirit." A Pingry lifer, Mr. Stifel is a former trustee and Letter-in-Life Award recipient, is a Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, and works at Morgan Stanley.
Mr. Sullivan pointed out that most people in Jack's situation would have accepted that playing competitive sports wasn't reasonable or realistic. "In fact, given the physical nature of wrestling, to step on the wrestling mat—knowing that your joints are at such high risk of injury as a result of this condition—toes the line between courage and recklessness." Yet, Jack has followed his passion, even with setbacks like tearing his ACL, MCL, and lateral meniscus (on the interior of the knee joint) during summer training at West Point, and snapping a ligament in his elbow while weight training in the gym last school year.
"But Jack didn't have it in him to quit. Or rather, he had something in him that wouldn't let him quit. Perhaps it was his love for wrestling, his dogged optimism, or the commitment that Jack felt he had made to his teammates," Mr. Sullivan said. That commitment has included attending every practice, effectively serving as a coach and mentor to the younger wrestlers, and daily training while he rehabilitated—in turn, his teammates elected him to serve as a captain this school year, when he returned to competition and earned a second-place finish at the team's opening tournament! As fate would have it, he tore the ACL in his other knee during Winter Break, but he used a knee brace to finish his senior season.
"If we can inspire in each other the courage, optimism, passion, and spirit that Jack has displayed in his time at Pingry," Mr. Sullivan said, "it's hard to imagine a limit to what we could accomplish as a community."
In his passionate "thank you" remarks, Jack dismissed the notion of the Stifel Award being presented for an unfortunate incident or bad luck. "No, this award is named after and created because of a Pingry student, just like you and me, who suffered an enormous setback and didn't let it get in the way of his success and his journey. Mr. Stifel showed something in the face of his adversity that doesn't get expressed so often in our relatively comfortable lives here at Pingry: resilience, a trait just as important as excellence and honor, and something that I strive to embody every day." He left the audience with this vision: "Imagine a school, a community, where success in and of itself was not prized more than the blood, sweat, and tears it took to achieve it. Imagine that, realize that, and you have a community of resilience."
Also addressing the audience, as he does each time this award is presented, Mr. Stifel encouraged everyone to "remove the paralysis from within each of us" that prevents us from challenging ourselves, pursuing our dreams, and fulfilling our potential. "Make a commitment to yourself: dig deep to find inner strength."
Pictured: Henry G. Stifel III '83, Jack Lyons '19, Varsity Wrestling Head Coach and history teacher George Sullivan, and Headmaster Nat Conard P '09, '11.
Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer