Jared Fialko

Don't expect ECU's Sirk to quit now

Posted August 23

Getting hurt sucks.

There's no way to sugarcoat it. It straight disrupts your entire life. Your summer vacation plans? Call the hotel, cancel your rental car reservation, tell your friends you're not making the wedding, because the injury doesn't care. The strength, agility, coordination you've built up in the gym. Get ready to start back at zero, because the injury doesn't care. Heck, your basic human ability to take care of yourself? Allot yourself 15 minutes if you care to pour your own bowl of cereal because: THE. INJURY. DOES. NOT. CARE.

These all become facts of life when you suffer a debilitating injury. I lived a charmed one in the sense that I never had to deal with a serious one before June 12. Then I tore my Achilles tendon while on assignment.

I didn't think much of it at first. My father, who is an actual athlete by the way, a tennis pro, tore his Achilles. His foot essentially dangled following a harrowing escape from a coiled rattlesnake (story for another day). I could walk without pain, albeit at a slow pace, and continued work/life as normal believing the human body's natural tendency to heal itself would run its course. The two doctors' (mis)diagnoses didn't deter me from that. Then a specialist stared at me in horror that I was walking around freely with essentially a hole in the back of calf where one of the most important tendons in the body should be.

My Summer of 2017 wasn't the Summer of George (Costanza) or even the Summer of (CM) Punk. It was the Summer of Sitting Down in the Shower. I could list for you everything that was awful about my last seven weeks.

Therein lies the difference between myself and Thomas Sirk.

The East Carolina and former Duke quarterback knew my pain. Three times over, in fact. He tore his right Achilles four years ago and missed the entirety of the 2013 season. Three years later, he tore his left one. He set a goal for himself then: defy the standard medical timetable and get back under center in under seven months' time. Sirk came within days of accomplishing that, before his left one failed him again.

"It was a non-contact drill, just a routine running day," Sirk recalls. "You start to question, is my form bad? Is something not strong enough that needs to be stronger?"

Three crushing injuries. Each one that has an estimated full recovery time of up to one year. For selfish reasons, I wanted to know. How do you get over it?

"For me it was about, what can I control?" Sirk said. "The only thing that I could control for the team is for me to get back, and get back better than I was before."

On Tuesday, Sirk and I sat down to talk inside ECU's weight room. Not in chairs, but on cycles. We both needed to do our respective rehabs. We also commiserated about how Aircasts, crutches and three-wheeled knee-walkers.

"The scooter really became my best friend, getting across campus I put a little horn on it," he laughed.

I learned that he's a tad more ambidextrous than I am. I had to stay away from the wheel of my Wrangler for six weeks. Thomas kept trucking.

"I had to learn how to drive with my left foot which is probably pretty dangerous, but I did it for awhile," Sirk said.

He reiterated what my doctor told me many times, that day-to-day life becomes next to impossible without a support system. After all, making a bowl of soup becomes the equivalent of a Double Dare Physical Challenge when you've got one foot in the air and two hands on crutches.

"I had my fiance, Danielle, who is now my wife," Sirk said. "She helped me out with everything along with my parents. Danielle took care of me, I was so fortunate to have her around to provide for me, help me get food, and do the small things that I couldn't do anymore."

How'd he end up repaying Danielle? With his own shiny independence day present.

"That wedding ring! They say, put a ring on it, and I did because she was there for me through thick and thin," he said.

However, Sirk was also frank in describing the months he was forced to spend away from football.

"I missed the game. I missed being out there with my teammates," he said.

He even longed for the blistering heat that accompanies two-a-days during an August in North Carolina.

"You take practices for granted until you realize that you can't go to them anymore," he said.

Sirk never sulked, according to his teammates. One of the guys who used to clear the way for him in Durham, Austin Davis, told us back in February that Sirk was a constant, positive presence. Offering advice whenever he could, something he saw from the sideline that maybe a coach didn't catch. He could've retreated, become an island unto himself, but he didn't.

"That's why I took such a positive approach and a positive mentality to my rehab, because it meant everything for me to get back on the field."

That became his primary objective. It helped make the 45 minutes of simple stretches speed by.

"You have to have a goal. People try to deny the injury from the very beginning, and that's something I never did. It happened, so let's move forward."

Of course, his goal changed this previous spring. When Sirk transferred from Duke to East Carolina, where the likelihood of him getting on the field more would be a legit possibility. David Cutcliffe made it pretty clear that rising sophomore Daniel Jones would be his guy going forward under center. Sirk finds himself behind on the depth chart in Greenville too, after Scottie Montgomery's announcement on Tuesday that Gardner Minshew will be the Pirates' starter for Sept. 2 opener against James Madison.

It won't be the last we've heard from Sirk, I can almost guarantee it. Because Sirk's come too far to quit now. He'll get his shot at some point this season.

As I was about to crutch out the door, three strips of Velcro securing my Aircast, I asked Sirk for any last piece of advice.

"Don't give the injury power. That's a quote I love, don't give the injury power, and I try not to give it power over my life. It's not who I am, to sit here and let an injury control my attitude," he said.

He's beaten an injury that's leveled me, three times. I doubt his current status as ECU's number two will deter him.

Currently listening to: Led Zeppelin - "Achilles Last Stand" because irony, or something.


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