Published book and upcoming movie details former Gaylord patient’s journey to “shoot for the sun” after horrific accident.
Author Mike Krysiuk of Westport is on a mission to empower youth to “be their authentic selves” and avoid “walking in the shadow of others.”
It’s sage advice that the Westport resident firmly believes could have changed his own destiny … had he only followed it, himself.
The “big crowd”
It was the spring of 1974 and Mike, a 17-year-old varsity baseball pitcher, had just ended a game with an astonishing sinker when a stranger rushed towards him, eager to shake his hand.
He was a scout with the New York Mets, he said, and was impressed with Mike’s performance. With a promise to follow up with the high school senior, the gentleman handed Mike his card and urged him to continue the good work.
Mike was elated. His life, it seemed, was finally on the right track. Not only was his pitching attracting national attention, but in a few minutes, he would be headed home to complete the last paper he needed to make up in order to graduate on time.
Mike had always been a responsible student until earlier that year when he started hanging with what he described as “the big crowd,” a group of popular jocks who often cut classes together.
Having regarded himself as a “social nobody” for years, Mike was flattered that the group had accepted him into their fold. After all, he reasoned, he was a senior, and it was finally his time to shine.
But running with the big crowd exacted a hefty toll. His grades dropped sharply until the threat of being kicked off the baseball team and not graduating with his class motivated him to reshape his priorities.
Triumph to tragedy
Mike was leaving the game when the ringleader of “the big crowd” – the most popular kid in school – invited him to join the group on an impromptu road trip across the state border to buy beer. Mike politely declined, citing his unfinished paper at home. Refusing to take no for an answer, the boy even offered Mike the shotgun seat in his tiny Triumph T6.
Despite his misgivings, Mike caved in. He’d go along, he said, but wouldn’t drink.
Mike was nicknamed “The Big One” for good reason. At 6’ 4”, the teen was barely able to cram himself into the two-seater sports car. Within minutes, the teens were flying down roads at speeds exceeding 100 mph. Mike was terrified, and his pleas to slow down fell on deaf ears.
And then … disaster.
The clutch and brakes locked. They careened toward a huge pile of dirt, directly into a massive bulldozer, and flipped over. The sound, “like a nuclear bomb,” was the loudest Mike had ever heard. He felt his face explode before succumbing into darkness.
The day that began with one paper standing between Mike and graduation ended with no one expecting Mike to even be alive on graduation day.
“Walk in your own light.”
The doctor urged Mike’s parents and sister to say goodbye to Mike before he was wheeled into emergency surgery. With numerous injuries and severe brain trauma, he said, Mike likely wouldn’t survive through the night.
Throughout a harrowing six-week-long coma, Mike vividly experienced what he described as a “vision” that would set the course for the rest of his life.
“I was running through a field of grass, passing in and out of my life’s memories,” he recalled.
“The sun was behind me with no shadow in front of me. At the end of the field, the sun rose, and I heard a voice say, ‘You are going back, Mike. You are going to work for it. Do not walk in other peoples’ shadows … walk in your own light and teach others to do the same.’”
Nearly two months after the accident, the teen emerged into consciousness, barely able to recognize his own body. Mike’s 185-pound frame had wasted away to a mere 66-pounds. He was covered in wires, dependent on a machine to breathe, and unable to move anything other than his eyes.
In spite of his condition, the lasting memory of the extraordinary vision filled him with peace, irrepressible positivity, and a new mission. It was in this fragile - yet hopeful - state that Mike was transferred to Gaylord to begin his long road to rehabilitation.
Golden ring to recovery
“From the get-go,” he said, “Gaylord was my grasp at the golden ring to recovery.”
“My parents made a decision to get me to Gaylord, knowing it was my best opportunity to get my life back. They made an investment in me and I wasn’t going to let anyone down – especially me.”
For five months, Mike worked on rebuilding his strength and coordination and relearning basics such as how to stand and use a fork.
“They knew I was an athlete and used that approach in therapy,” he recalled. “Gaylord gave me the fire to keep on going and fueled my determination.”
He vividly remembers the day he first stood at the parallel bars and walked.
“I took a few steps and I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to get to my room, call my parents and tell them, ‘I’m back! I’m going to get back!’”
Shoot for the sun.
Years after leaving Gaylord, Mike’s sister revealed the special prayer their father said over Mike’s broken body in the hours after the accident.
“My dad said, ‘Lord if there is any way to give my son back to me, to have a chance at life and be whole in some way, please bring him back. But if there is no way to heal him, I surrender him,’” he recalled.
“I firmly believe that Gaylord was the direct answer to that prayer. They made me whole and gave me that second chance at life.”
Mike lives by a simple motto: Shoot for the sun, because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars … and that’s a great place to be.
It’s a saying that has propelled him as a husband, father, a long-time employee of the town of Westport, and in his hobbies as a golfer, singer and songwriter. He’s even an actor, having appeared in several episodes of Law and Order and the movie Revolutionary Road.
Last year, Mike published an autobiographical novel, “The Big One.” The book offers several chapters to his time at Gaylord. His story is currently in negotiations to be developed into a major motion picture film. He hopes that by sharing story of how “walking in the shadows of others” led to his life-altering consequences, he can encourage youth to be “their authentic selves” and empower them to “shoot for the sun,” just as Gaylord encouraged him.
“I am forever going to be grateful to Gaylord for giving me my second breath,” he said.
“They made that light at the end of the tunnel even brighter.”
To learn more about Mike Krysiuk, his book and upcoming movie, visit www.shootforthesun.com.
Link to Gaylord's Think Possible podcast and Mike's interview: https://thinkpossible.buzzsprout.com/