ST. CHARLES, Minn. (KTTC) — Every year, thousands of athletes face the harsh reality of no longer being able to play the sport they love. Sometimes it seems like the number of injuries is constantly growing, but with every injury there’s a chance for an amazing comeback.
Mark Buringa went face-to-face with adversity and came out a tougher person because of it. He also came out on top as a state champion.
Rock Bottom is a place many athletes hit at some point in their career. It can occur on many levels, but probably the most common: an injury that takes away your ability to play the game.
“It was horrible, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that moment. I remember crying right away and calling my football coach,” said St. Charles athlete, Mark Buringa.
It was a broken leg. For the St. Charles Quarterback, a vertical fracture of his left fibula ended his football season in the middle of a 6-0 campaign, the Saints best start in 18 years, when they went 12-0 in 2000.
“Really in a small town like this, every kid my age is like sports man, that’s the life, right? Being the guy to score the touchdown on Friday night and when I found out I couldn’t do that anymore, there was about a solid week for sure, where it was just kind of feeling sorry for myself,” Buringa said.
A feeling that Mayo Clinic Sports Psychologists say happens to many high school athletes.
“When I see young high school age or teenage athletes, I worry the most, because they’re searching for their identity and often times their real identity that they think is valued is tied up in sport,” explained Dr. Aynsley Smith, a former Mayo Clinic Sports Psychologist.
Smith said one of her goals is to help those athletes see the bigger picture, by talking through their other passions.
“Sometimes it’s surprising, in reference to what we were just talking about, that that very sport they got injured isn’t really their favorite, it’s their third favorite,” Smith said.
Mark’s challenge: overcoming the fear of no longer being able to play football and shifting his focus to his passion for wrestling.
“I had to try to win the state title one last time and this was going to be the last shot I had, so there was no turning back,” Buringa said.
With determination under his belt, Buringa worked with his doctors on the best course of action.
“If you listen and follow the treatment protocol, you’re likely to get back playing sooner than if you try to play through an injury,” said Dr. Michael Stuart, Co-Director of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine.
“Once he explained to me what he used to do and how he was in the same shoes as me, it became just he’s really looking out for what’s best for me and how I can get back on the field and be back at my top game again,” Buringa said.
Buringa said doctors told him it would take six months to come back at full strength. But just 3 months after the injury he was back practicing and 2 months later, Mark stormed his way into the state tournament and made it to the championship match.
“In most years, I’d try to score as many points as possible,” Buringa said. “But this year with my leg being the way it was and my lungs not being perfectly conditioned, I kind of had to slow myself down and score when I had to and try to maintain the match as much as I could.”
Calm and collected Buringa won by a single point to come out on top as a state champion in Class A at 138 pounds.
“I remember throwing my arms up in the air and just euphoria. Seeing my family and everybody cheering,” Buringa said.
Knowing that moment was worth all of the pain and anguish he experienced back on the football field.
The more of these situations, they develop you as a tougher person, more than anything. So just keeping your nose to the grindstone and keeping where you want to be, rather than where you are today. That was the biggest thing going through this,” Buringa said.
After winning a state wrestling title, Buringa even played a full baseball season. He said dealing with an injury helped him to become a better teammate.
He isn’t planning to continue wrestling when he begins attending North Dakota State University this fall, but says you never know what might happen.