UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State student Jake Schrom was eager to be home for the summer. It was May 15, 2008, and he had just begun his usual summer job, working for his family’s tree service and landscaping business in Carlisle.
He was at the job site, getting ready to dump a full load of debris so he could finish the job for the day.
He had grown up in the business, Cumberland Valley Tree Service and Landscaping, and driving the dump truck was second nature. But this day, something went terribly wrong.
He tried to slow the truck and realized the brakes were gone. He lost control and the truck swerved off the road and began to roll. He was tossed out the window and the dump truck rolled on top of him.
His left leg was badly broken. His right leg, too damaged to save, had to be amputated above the knee.
Schrom had no idea of the difficulties that lay ahead. But, he said, he’s never let life’s complications bring him down, and he wasn’t about to start now.
“At first, I had a superman mentality,” he said. “I thought if anyone’s going to do it, I’m going to do it.”
Today, after two years filled with setbacks and triumphs, pain and progress, Schrom is starting to feel comfortable again.
The recovery process proved to be long and arduous. He spent the first two months in a wheelchair, followed by three more on crutches. Finally, he was fitted with a prosthetic leg, but it took him six months to adjust to using his new limb.
“Those first six months I was probably using my leg half the time,” he said. “I was using crutches the rest of the time.”
After taking the fall 2008 semester off, Schrom returned to Penn State in the spring of 2009, apprehensive about what was to come.
He realized that enjoyable activities that most people find easy, like going to football games, were hard for him. He struggled to get around and could only walk short distances. Even more difficult was being around other people and their curious eyes.
“I had a lot of difficulty with people staring,” he said. “It takes awhile for you to get comfortable in your new body.”
Getting used to the physical aspects of being an amputee was easy compared with the mental aspects, he said. Only recently, Schrom said, has he really felt comfortable walking around in public.
After two long years, Schrom is finally starting to adjust to his new prosthetic, and more importantly, to his new self.
He celebrated the anniversary with a trip to a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. More than an enjoyable outing, the trip signified a life that has returned to normal.
Right before his accident in 2008, Schrom and his girlfriend at the time had attended an Orioles game.
“It was the last memory of what you’d call normal,” he said.
He took the subway and walked to the stadium. “Last year, I wouldn’t have been able to do that,” he said, “but this year, I can walk pretty well so it’s kind of coming full circle.”
Schrom has set his sights even further — the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. He has been training in both power lifting and discus.
“For power lifting, you have to be one of the top nine in the world,” he said. “By 2012, I should be there, but nothing’s guaranteed.”
Schrom lifted weights as a stress reliever even before his accident, but says he’s more serious about it now. He tackles workouts with determination, never complaining even when he’s lifting his maximum weight of more than 400 pounds.
When his father, Fred Schrom, heard about the possibility of his son competing in the Paralympic games, he was all for it and has been encouraging him through the process.
“One of my prayers for Jake when he was in the hospital was that he would not let this accident keep him down,” Fred Schrom said. “So many people go into depression and blame the world for their misfortunes. I wanted Jake to put it behind him and move on.”
For fun, Jake Schrom plays for the Penn State Ability Athletics Wheelchair Basketball Team. They play both competitively and recreationally.
“That’s where all of us kids on campus that are disabled can come together,” he said. “I don’t think about my leg when I play. It’s kind of a way just to take that away from your mind.”
Teri Jordan is Jake Schrom’s coach, mentor and friend. She sees him as a positive person who is a leader in everything he does.
Schrom is a “very determined and driven person that wants to help others with a disability to maximize their lives and help them realize an injury does not have to be the end of your life but a new beginning,” she said.
As if going to college, training for the Paralympics and playing wheelchair basketball weren’t enough, Schrom also leads an amputee support group on campus and is seriously involved in one back home.
“I never envisioned myself being some sort of inspiration,” he said. “When I got hurt, it was just common sense to just try and get back to normal. People admire you for that.”