High School News
Reynolds Overcomes Surgeries, Long Road to Recovery Ahead of Comeback Campaign
By Anna Kayser
When Brownsburg opens its doors to kick off the 2023-24 wrestling season on Nov. 29 vs. Westfield, it will be the first time in 291 days that Parker Reynolds steps onto the mat in competition. Nine months and 18 days full of doctor’s visits, blood tests, surgeries, physical therapy and pushing himself to the limit, all for a young athlete to return to wrestling stronger than he left it.
Parker, the 138-pound freshman starter in last year’s Bulldog lineup, had his first high school campaign riddled with a then-mysterious condition causing numbness in his hands. A season which had incredible high points – on Dec. 10 at the Walsh Jesuit Ironman, he defeated the eventual 138-pound state champion from Ohio – was challenged by a mix of physical and mental hurdles.
“When I wrestled, I would lose all feeling. It was almost like there were knives in my forearms, it hurt really, really bad,” Parker said. “It started to almost become a mental thing because before a lot of matches, I wouldn’t know if it was going to come up or not and it almost freaked me out before every match. I was worried that my hands were going to go numb, and it really started messing with me when I wrestled.”
Following a semi-state loss to end his freshman season, Parker immediately began seeing a series of doctors to diagnose his condition. They tested his heart, musculoskeletal system and blood for autoimmune diseases before being referred to a group of specialists on thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) – one being Dr. George G. Sheng, a vascular surgeon with Ascension Medical Group.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, TOS – a condition often found in pitchers due to their repetitive throwing motion – refers to a series of syndromes where compression of nerves, arteries and veins in the lower neck and upper chest causes pain or numbness in the surrounding areas.
Parker, after undergoing another series of tests with Dr. Sheng, was diagnosed with both neurogenic and venous TOS, two of the three syndromes related to TOS causing his hands to turn purple, numbness and the sensation of feeling knives in his forearms.
The constant movement of the shoulder forward – similar to a pitcher’s throwing motion – at a young age can affect the placement of ribs before they’re entirely developed, leading to a partial blockage of different nerves and veins making up the spinal system. Parker became the first wrestler Dr. Sheng had seen with TOS, and in turn became the first to undergo a procedure to remove the first rib on his right side in an effort to alleviate his symptoms. The recovery timeline for this surgery to treat TOS is one year.
“Nobody thought he was going to be able to wrestle this year – not even the surgeon, not even us,” Josh Reynolds, Parker’s dad, said. “He was going to have to put the work in, he was going to have to go to physical therapy and see how his body [healed].”
Parker has TOS on both sides of his body, but an early expectation of having two rib-removal surgeries faded as the April 3 surgery on his right side relieved most symptoms on both. However, the doubt of a possible second surgery and how his body would rebound expanded the unknown from one year to potentially never wrestling again.
“This is the longest I’ve ever gone without having a match, I felt like so much was getting taken away from me. There was a lot of doubt [if I would ever wrestle again],” Parker said.
The beginning stages of Parker’s recovery can be summed up in two words: Boring and grueling. Unable to do anything where he might feel pressure in his left side, the rising sophomore found himself unable to do all of his favorite things – wrestling, as well as enjoy fishing and a number of water activities at his family’s vacation home in Florida.
After months of being in a dark place mentally, from not knowing what was going on with his body to possibly being unable to wrestle for at least a year, Parker began seeing a mental coach.
“[Parker’s mental coach] has probably been one of the biggest influences in all of this,” Josh said. “He was a calming voice to Parker and saying ‘Listen, you’ve got to listen to your body. If you’re not right, you can’t come back prematurely.’”
Taking the next step in his rehab process by beginning light, lower body-focused workouts helped, too, and Parker’s parents saw a noticeable change mentally.
And then, a lump on his neck appeared and severe nosebleeds began, sparking a series of blood tests with the possibility of lymphoma or leukemia. The average size of a lymph node is under 1.5 centimeters in diameter, and Parker’s grew to near 3 centimeters.
“He’d make comments like, “I don’t know what I can do if I can’t wrestle. That’s all I’ve ever done, I’ve been wrestling since I was four.’” Josh said. “As a family, it was tough especially for my wife and I because we’re just saying we want [Parker] healthy and in his eyes, ‘Well if I’m healthy I can wrestle.’”
Parker had another surgery in July to remove the entire growth from his neck. The tests for leukemia came back negative, and instead he was diagnosed with Epstein Barr virus – another form of mononucleosis – likely caused by the hit his immune system took with the removal of his rib.
He was cleared to return to practice in August, with stipulations from his surgeon: He couldn’t be taken down and was only allowed to be in situations which he could control. But he could build his entire daily routine around wrestling and gaining strength for the season.
“Coach [Chad] Red said, “You tell me when and where and I’m with you every step of the way,’” Josh recalled. “That’s when we saw this mental transition. [Parker] was working with the mental coach, doing one-on-ones with Coach Red, practicing twice a day [plus lifting weights] and he was changing his mindset.”
Over the summer, Parker lost close to 10 pounds. After being cleared by his physicians, he began working out and practicing three times a day, before school and after school, to get himself back in wrestling shape for Brownsburg’s impending Oct. 30 practice.
“After a couple months, you can see he’s getting smoother and feeling better,” Brownsburg head wrestling coach Darrick Snyder said. “Now, we’re working through with him that he’s not going to be the same dude at our opening meet that he will be at the end of the year. He’s going to take some leaps this season.”
Now, Parker’s coming back with a vengeance – finally stepping onto the mat with more answers than questions. Along with a renewed sense of confidence in his health and wrestling ability, he’s entering this season with three things he didn’t have last year:
A tattoo on his lower ribs of a quote by Moliére, a French playwright, reading, “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”
A list of all the wrestlers he beat last season who placed at the state championships in Indiana or surrounding states.
And a necklace with his first rib, removed when this all started, to wear around his neck before each of his matches during his improbable comeback campaign.
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