GROESBECK, Texas (KWTX) During his lunch break while working at Tennis Express in Houston, Luke Henley suffered a serious injury as a passenger in a single-car accident involving three of his friends.
Luke Henley, whose passion for tennis developed at an early age, has come back from a crippling crash to sign a college letter of intent. (Photo by Tyler Bouldin)
Everyone survived the crash on November 19, 2017, but Henley severed his hip at the neck of the ball joint and would face a lengthy recovery process.
"(It's a) miracle mixed with a lot of drive and a lot of passion," Henley said. "There was a lot of uncertainty from the doctors. It was always, 'I don't know. I don't know.'
"My parents were always there, always there. It was always an 'I don't know' from a doctor's point of view. But from my point of view, and my parents' point of view, it was always an, 'I know, I can.' I never stopped."
IF I'M EATING CEREAL, I’M WATCHING TENNIS
Since he was four-years old, Luke Henley has been in love with tennis -- a sport his father, David, played in college and has coached his son throughout his youth.
"If I'm not playing tennis, I'm thinking about tennis," Luke Henley said. "If I'm eating cereal in the morning, I'm watching tennis."
The talent has always been there, evident by becoming a starter for the Westside (Houston) High School varsity team as a freshman. He made the team as a sophomore, but was unable to compete after being involved in the car accident.
Luke went through eight months of physical therapy, and had to learn how to walk and run again.
RECOVERY, A SETBACK AND RELOCATION
In his first attempt to return to tennis, Luke was able to start the following fall for Westside, but surgery to remove hardware in his hip eventually kept him on the sideline for three months.
After being cleared to return at the end of February 2019, he was only able to play for two weeks before breaking his hip and losing his ability to walk.
"What really made it hard was the hope coming back," Luke Henley said. "I had three different surgeries. The hope would be high -- before and after. When something else happened, whether it be a bad x-ray or re-breaking it, it would destroy that hope and it really hurt."
Luke and his family decided a fresh start near Lake Groesbeck was warranted.
'THE SCHOOL SYSTEM HAS BEEN INCREDIBLE'
After eight more months of physical therapy and an entire school year of at-home learning, Luke was easily embraced at Groesbeck High School after meeting with longtime tennis coach Jim Longbotham and fellow senior tennis player Colby McWhorter, who helped with the initial stringing of Luke's racket.
"When you have a young man that moves into a new system as a senior, just making friends is tough," Longbotham said. "He became student body president. That tells you the quality of the young man right there."
Luke excelled in his new role at school. He helped organize a football tailgate, 'The Groesbeck Goats are Gucci', that collected 20 sponsors.
He appeared to also finally be healthy, winning all of his singles and doubles matches in the 3A regional round.
"The school system has been incredible from the top down to the bottom," David Henley said. "Everyone has been extremely supportive of him, his ideas, and his presidency."
But a pandemic halted his comeback story.
Longbotham helped organize a surprise signing-day event for Luke Henley, McWhorter and fellow senior Hannah DeFriend.
Had the coronavirus not existed, those three expected to compete for a spot in the state championship that same day.
"(Thursday) would've been, about right now, we would've been going to eat somewhere after winning in the semifinals, getting ready to play in the finals in the morning," Longbotham said.
"It's good that we got to play a little bit this season and feel each other out for the college aspect," McWhorter said. "But we also got to play together and realize how good we would've been to go at this individual season and make a run at a state title."
Not only that, but Luke had two other important tasks planned as Groesbeck's Class of 2020 president that were scrapped because of COVID-19.
The first was Food Truck Friday, which would be a weekly food service at the school until the end of the school year. The second was a sock hop, which is an informal dancing event popular in the mid-20th century.
OFF TO BETHEL, BUT WHO KNOWS WHEN
Luke Henley and McWhorter are best friends. They'll also be roommates at Bethel College (Kan.) when they play tennis there.
"I'll definitely be the cleaner roommate," Henley joked without hesitation, referring to how well he keeps his Jeep compared to his buddy's truck.
After all Luke has been through the past three years, it's only fair he knows somebody in an unfamiliar place before moving there considering it's an eight-hour drive from Groesbeck to North Newton, Kansas.
"There was not a day where he didn't have a positive attitude," said Belinda Henley, Luke's mother. "He never complained, never once said, 'Why me?' He took it all in stride.
A remarkable fighter, his parents say, can be traced back to the day when he was born prematurely.
"When he chose Bethel, and said, 'That's where I want to go', he was afraid to disappoint us because it was so far away and it was the furthest college," Belinda Henley said. "If that's your dream and that's where you want to be, then that's where we want you to be."