By Cami Fitzgerald
Five years after suffering a subdural hematoma that forever changed his life as an 11th-grade Knights athlete and young man, this fall Zack McLeod has begun working at the Nicholas Athletic Center (NAC) in hopes of finding employment compatible with his ongoing physical and occupational therapy goals.
Zack’s work at school had a false start two years ago, when health-related complications forced him to stop. But this year Athletic Director Rick Foresteire ’86 and Head of School Rebecca Upham were able to coordinate Zack’s return.
Zack receives no salary but helps in the NAC as a jack- of-all-trades for odd jobs in the equipment and training rooms. He has also helped manage the Middle School football program this fall.
Accompanied by an aid who attends him at all hours of the day, Zack can be found on campus from 11:30 a.m. until the school day’s close on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Occasionally he comes in earlier to enjoy art projects set up by his aid or his parents in the wrestling room.
For Zack, most days start in the training room with Head Athletic Trainer Kathy Gruning, who said Zack has offered a valuable hand in filling ice bags for the coolers, stocking tape and supplies, and making Vaseline pads for athletes.
After lunch, Zach shifts focus to equipment management with Athletic Coordinator Bill O’Brien in the cage, where he hangs, counts, restocks, and issues athletic attire to students who have trekked over after a day of classes.
“The interaction with coaches and students provides him with an important social outlet to stay connected to friends and former teammates,” said Mr. O’Brien.
But the benefit is reciprocal, Mr. O’Brien added.
“Zack spreads his positive, good will in support of BB&N,” Mr. Foresteire agreed. “I think everyone is just really excited to help him.”
Zack’s mother, Tammy McLeod P’08, ’13, ’16, reported that Zack has thoroughly enjoyed his stint at the gym where he grew up and learned to love football.
“Zack absolutely loves going to BB&N,” she said. “It is the highlight of his week. He really enjoys being around all his old trainers, coaches, staff, and administrators. We hope that working at BB&N will jumpstart a new wave of healing for Zack. Being in familiar settings with familiar people who love him is so important to his recovery.”
Zack’s father, Pat McLeod P’08, ’13, ’16, added his appreciation for the school’s continuing love and commitment to Zack.
“We have been overwhelmed by the kindness and support of the school and earnestly hope that Zack will make a significant contribution to this school—that his faith, hope, and love will continue to be contagious wherever he goes and whatever he does,” he said.
Mr. McLeod also credited the school community for keeping Zack in good spirits both before and after his injury years ago.
“In the year leading up to his brain injury, he prayed every single night for his classmates,” Mr. McLeod said. “The school as a whole—and Head Coach Papas, the football community, Rick, and the entire athletic department in particular—have played a huge role in Zack’s recovery and the well-being of our whole family in the wake of Zack’s tragic accident.”
The road to recovery has proven tough for Zack nevertheless.
“His recovery is definitely a challenge right now,” said Mr. Foresteire, citing complications related to Zack’s physical limitations. “Hopefully he will get stronger, have longer endurance, and get positive results.”
Ms. Gruning reported that Zack logs his daily activities with an iPad journal that lets him track his progress and accomplishments— ultimately creating a record of work for which the McLeod family continues to feel thankful.
“We are so grateful for BB&N’s job offer to Zack and for the sacrifices made by Rick, Kathy, and Bill to involve him in meaningful work,” she said.
“Every day he gets to go to a place that is near to his heart and be with people he loves.”
Mr. McLeod had the following message for the school community: “Please don’t be bashful getting to know Zack. Give him a high-five or a fist bump or a hug—he will love getting to know you. Trust me when I say a minute with Zack every day is good medicine for the soul.”