College Track and Field: Ethan Kibbe fights back for St. Bonaventure after car collision
Ethan Kibbe can't imagine a life without running.
Running has always been a staple of life for Kibbe — now it just holds an extra special meaning after being nearly taken away from him.
Last October, he suffered severe injuries after being hit by a car while running in Olean, New York. While in the midst of a distance run, a car collided with Kibbe in a crosswalk and sent him flying into a busy street.
"I was very aware of what happened. I remember flying and feeling the impact, smacking down on the road," he said. "Thank God the oncoming cars stopped. The first thought was, 'Am I going to live?'"
Unable to move and lying in his own blood in the middle of the road, he was able to remain calm enough to direct those around him to help get the immediate care he needed.
"I told one person to call 911 and another to call my parents. It was surreal that people didn't know what to do and I was kind of directing traffic," he said. "It kept me focused on that and not what had happened. I couldn't see my leg thankfully. I know it wasn't at a good angle."
In a twist of brutal irony, the member of the Bonnies cross country and track teams was training by himself in an effort to recover from injuries that had limited him during his first two years with Bona. Sitting out the fall following a surgery as well as suffering multiple injuries during his freshman and sophomore years, he felt he was just getting back into shape. When the accident happened, he was in the midst of a 10-mile run while the rest of his teammates were on the track for a speed workout.
"I was so close to getting back. I'd just had about three good days where everything was clicking," he says.
Then, tragedy struck.
Though he had the right-of-way near the intersection of West State and 20th streets in Olean, the driver of the car failed to see Kibbe before going through the crosswalk.
"The first thing I asked was if I was going to live," Kibbe remembers. "The Olean EMTs were unbelievably good. When they said I would, it was a great relief that lasted for about one second and then it's like, 'Am I going to lose my leg?' They told me to worry about something else, which wasn't the most comforting thing."
While the prospect of losing a limb would be terrifying to anyone, Kibbe's reasons for having that concern dealt more with the love of his sport than the impact it would have on his everyday life.
"I figured if I could keep my leg I had a decent chance of running again. That's the whole reason I wanted my leg," he said. "I figured I could do a lot of things with one leg, but you can't really run. That was my big focus. The sport means that much to me."
The junior comes honestly by his participation in the sport — as a kid, he would spend summers racing after watching his older brother and sister each compete. His father also ran collegiately. Competing himself came as a natural progression.
"We would be racing all over. It was an every weekend thing," he says. "It was just natural to join the cross country and track teams in junior high school and high school. Then, I was living vicariously through my brother, Steve, when he started running here. It was awfully hard to pass up running with my siblings here."
After his career at Northern Potter High wrapped up, Kibbe began to battle injuries as a collegiate runner. After missing his freshman season due to rehab from a sports hernia, he underwent core surgery in Philadelphia in 2015. He ran through pain during his sophomore cross country season but was again ruled out for the fall of his junior year. Despite the setbacks, Kibbe was still named by coaches and teammates as a team captain for this season because of perseverance and dedication to the program.
"As a runner I've gotten worse, but it has made me stronger as a person through the things I've gone through and being around the members of this team," he said.
With rehab rolling toward a return to competition for track season this spring, things were quickly sidelined following his accident. Not only was his junior year put in doubt, but so was running again.
After being flown to a hospital in Buffalo, doctors diagnosed Kibbe with a compound fracture of his left leg and a broken left arm. He had the worry of potentially losing his leg until meeting with doctors after his arrival in Buffalo.
Even in the aftermath of his accident, his participation on the team weighed heavily on his mind.
"In a time of incredible pain, for whatever reason what upset me the most was they were cutting off my Bonaventure jersey and the running shorts coach had gotten us," he remembers. "It was pretty instant that I wanted to get back and run."
Getting back to running came as a long process. After five days in the hospital, during which teammates and director of strength and conditioning Darryn Fiske touched base with Mike Gansey, former Bonnies men's basketball player and current member of the front office for the Cleveland Cavaliers, to send Kibbe a care package of gear from his beloved Cavs, the rehab began.
He spent multiple weeks with his leg elevated in a cast and with his arm at a 90-degree angle while in a wheelchair.
"You just lie around like a blob. Everything hurts and you're just watching the clock for when you can get your next pain pill," Kibbe recalls. "From there it was just slowing trying to build up weight. The rehab has been constantly working. Trying to get back to living life is the best way to re-train the leg."
After being wheelchair-bound for a month, getting back on the track this spring may have seemed like a stretch. Kibbe never wavered, however, in his work to continue running.
"Ethan has been an inspiration to his teammates and coaches," St. Bonaventure head coach Bob MacFarlane said. "Nothing is more inspiring than watching him overcome extreme hardships the past three years. His determination to lead and compete and always having a positive attitude has been a tremendous influence on the team."
That determination and dedication to the team gave Kibbe a chance to beat the odds and be there for his teammates earlier this month.
He was travelling with the team from the start of the spring season despite not competing. Then, when the team was set to head to Rochester for the ROC City Invitational on April 9 they found themselves one member short of the 14 athletes needed to count as an official team.
"I told Coach, if you need me I can go," he said.
Kibbe was entered in the last event of the day — set to anchor the 3,200-meter relay. Instead of having to scratch that team and not compete in the event, Kibbe told his teammates he would run.
"Coach said to walk if I needed to, but I was running with three guys I couldn't do that to," Kibbe said. "As a captain of the team, the biggest responsibility is looking out for and caring for your guys and they had put in the work in 800 meters each to hand me a baton to finish things. I wasn't about to quit on my team. I just went out there and put my head down and got to work."
As Kibbe took the baton, a cheer went up from the crowd who had been informed of his struggle to return to the track.
"It was special to compete with my teammates," he said. "You could've probably timed me with a sundial, but it was great to be running with them."
"In all parts of life there are periods of adversity we must face but the real challenge is what and how we gain from conquering those trials," MacFarlane emphasized. "Through adversity we come face-to-face with who we really are, and with Ethan his mindset and attitude never wavered. He was strong-minded and never stopped believing he could overcome."
While still in daily pain as his recovery continues, Kibbe and his doctors will meet in the coming weeks to decide if they will leave the rod that was inserted in his leg and how to best proceed with rehab.
An aspiring broadcaster who hopes to one day tell the stories of athletes for a living, he realizes there are yet to be chapters written in his own comeback story — one that has left him with an even deeper connection to the sport he loves.
"Not running is fun when you're not doing it by choice. When you're not running because you can't, that is miserable," he said. "There are days when you're in the middle of a distance run and you can't think of one good reason why you're doing it. It's the time that you're out that makes you realize why it is so special."