Leading the area in dealing with pain
Author(s): Joe Bush
Date: March 2, 2001
Fate is still trying to connect with a knockout blow on Mike Mercadante. It ruined one of his shoulders, thus snatching from him the sport he loved, wrestling. It first dislocated during an intramural football game two autumns ago.
"I didn't want to play real football because I didn't want to be injured," the St. Charles East senior says.
Mercadante made the varsity wrestling squad as a freshman and had a promising sophomore season. He had wrestled longer than any of his classmates.
The shoulder continued to pop out, and it did so in a dual against Glenbard North. It was his first match of the season, and his last.
A shoulder dislocation is a cruel injury. Not only does it hurt like heck - sometimes so much Mercadante says he can't speak coherently - the more it comes out, the more likely it will recur.
"It comes out in my sleep," he says.
The pain is physical, but the wound is mental. Imagine having what seems to be a dead limb.
"It feels like you have no control of it," Mercadante says. "It's a very scary feeling. You panic."
Mercadante says the shoulder disconnected about 15 times before he underwent surgery. There were torn ligaments, and the process was to have tied them up and given the shoulder mobility.
"Ninety-six percent of (the surgeries) are successful," he says.
Guess which percentile Mercadante is in? He estimates the shoulder has slipped out or been yanked out 25 times this season.
The last of his 25 bouts this season was in last Saturday's Class AA quarterfinal in Rock Island. Mercadante hadn't wrestled much since Jan. 27 at the Upstate Eight Conference meet.
Why? Well, it wasn't because of his shoulder. He suffered a concussion.
"It's been a ridiculous two years," he says.
He recovered in time to compete at the Sycamore regional the next week, and out came the shoulder in the second period of his first match. He couldn't continue.
He wasn't going out like that. If that was the case, he would have quit after getting pinned in a dual against DeKalb in early January.
It was a dual the Saints lost by 2 points, a loss for which Mercadante blames himself.
"I love the sport so much," he says. "I promised myself I wouldn't stop until the pain would override the desire. I tried to stay true to that."
The injury forced Mercadante to change his style to protect the shoulder. When he wore a skintight brace, it not only rendered the arm nearly useless, it restricted his breathing.
Still, he practiced in it between the regional and the Rockford East team sectional. He wasn't needed in both sectional duals, which the Saints won to get to the Elite Eight.
That was a goal of the seniors, a tight group led in part by Mercadante. You've heard of leading by example? Mercadante's your man.
His teammates saw not only his persistence at competing despite his injury, they watched as he encouraged and taught and scouted opponents for them.
"He'd have the main report on every next guy," senior Matt Kinney says.
So Mercadante knew well what he was getting into by pushing for one more match: Providence junior Don Reynolds, whom Mercadante could have scouted as Reynolds destroyed the 140-pound competition at the Class AA finals in Champaign.
No different than any other wrestler who faces an elite foe in the dual-team tournament, Mercadante knew his final match would be for the team.
"My job was to keep it as close as possible," he says.
He did that, losing by major decision to Reynolds, who saw the brace and showed no mercy.
"He was getting (the shoulder) cranked on pretty good," Saints coach Steve Smerz says. "He was fighting through some pain."
Not nearly enough to overcome the desire.
Mercadante is an accomplished maker of ceramics - bowls, cups, whatever can be thrown on a wheel and baked in a kiln - and will study art education at North Central College.
He'd still like to be an accomplished wrestler, and he is nearly sure that he will have another surgery so he can wrestle for the Cardinals. He wants to be a wrestling coach.
"That kid must love wrestling," Kinney says. "None of us love it as much as him."
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