The words Kyle Buchanan will speak later this afternoon upon entering the Indiana University’s Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex are the same four he voiced during Center Grove High School’s commencement exercises a week ago tonight:
“Wish you were here.”
While Buchanan literally attempts to raise the bar against other elite pole-vaulters at the 110th annual IHSAA Boys Track and Field State Finals, his father, Chris, 51, will be virtually motionless in a bed at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Chris Buchanan, a 1980 graduate of Franklin Community High School, has been in a coma since May 8 after sustaining severe head injuries. Family members suspect the two fractures to the left side of Chris’ skull were caused by a fall inside the garage of the family’s residence.
"He was outside mowing at around 8:30 at night. What we’re guessing is he came in the garage, took his shoes off and blacked out from dehydration,” Kyle Buchanan said. “I had gotten home from officiating, and he was laying on the floor with his head on the bottom step. In my head I’m like, ‘Why are you sleeping?’
“I shook him a few times, called his name and poured water on him.”
Buchanan next phoned his uncle, Curt, a Franklin resident who is Chris Buchanan’s twin brother. Upon his arrival, Curt noticed Chris’ jaw was locked, which led to the family calling 911.
“We really don’t know what happened. It was a hot day that day, and (Chris’) shoes were off and he had put the mower away. After that we don’t know, and we’ll probably never know,” said Kyle’s mother, Jane. “In the beginning we kind of beat ourselves up trying to figure out what happened. But it really doesn’t matter. It’s about the recovery at this point.”
The past 23 days have been understandably trying for family members. Hospital visiting hours tacked on to normal everyday responsibilities has led to both emotional and physical fatigue.
Jane, who works two jobs, visits her husband daily. Kyle drives downtown five, sometimes six times a week to update his father on the goings on in his life.
And there have been many.
On May 16, only eight days after Chris was hospitalized, Buchanan competed at the Columbus North Sectional. His thoughts clearly elsewhere, the senior somehow managed to place second with a vault of 12 feet, 6 inches.
“That was a rough week. My head was filled with all sorts of things. After my first attempt I didn’t even think I would clear my opening height, which was 12-6,” said Buchanan. “Everyone tells me how slow I looked that week. Coming home from the hospital around midnight and then getting up for school the next morning at 6:30 ... I was worn out.”
An additional week enabled Buchanan to be better prepared for the Connersville Regional on May 23. The senior tied a personal best with a vault of 14 feet to win the event in what were miserably cold and windy conditions.
“I was better rested and my dad was making improvements, where as the first week we had no idea what was happening,” Buchanan said. “All of his numbers have gone down. His blood pressure. His brain pressure. And all of his swelling has gone down.”
Buchanan received his high school diploma the day after winning regional both individually and as a team (the Trojans’ only other regional crown came in 2002).
A 3.9 grade-point-average student, Buchanan plans to attend Indiana University and major in sports science with an eye on some day becoming an athletics director at the collegiate level.
Unfortunately, Chris Buchanan, a devoted attendee at every one of his three children’s functions while they were growing up, couldn’t be present. Not at Columbus North, not at Connersville, not at his youngest child’s high school graduation.
Kyle Buchanan, however, is confident his father has been part of all three. Four if you count today as Buchanan takes part in a state meet for the first time in his career.
“Mentally and physically, no, he won’t be there (today). But spiritually, he’s helped me,” said Buchanan, who before sectional wrote ‘Do it for dad’ on the piece of tape that marks where he begins his start on the runway.
“Going into this season my (pole vault) coach (Kevin Walsh) had me write down my goals. One was to finish in the top nine at state so I can make the (Center Grove) Wall of Fame. Another was to vault 15 feet. I’ve said that if I can clear 15 feet I’ll talk to the track coach at IU about possibly walking on to their program.”
Podium or no podium, medal or no medal, Buchanan has already won based on the way he’s handled recent adversity.
Witnessing his father’s ongoing battles, coupled with how factions of the Center Grove community has rallied around the Buchanans with gestures of kindness such as delivered meals and tending to household chores, has been eye-opening to say the least.
Through it all, Kyle Buchanan continues to elevate.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kyle to be able to focus the way he has. He’s made no excuses whether it’s competing or with his training. It’s always just the task at hand,” said Center Grove track coach Eric Moore, who knows Buchanan well having also coached him in football.
“I would like to see him on the podium somewhere. He deserves it. Just the fact Kyle has been able to compete through all of this, he has my admiration.”
Chris Buchanan’s medical prognosis continues to be very much wait and see. The fall he experienced on May 8 also broke a vertebrae in the back of his neck. According to Jane, Chris didn’t react well to doctors gradually taking him off the medicines originally prescribed for him.
Powers at heights far greater than Kyle Buchanan could ever dream of pole vaulting will determine whether his father comes out of his coma anytime soon. Or ever. Should Chris Buchanan be so fortunate, a lengthy rehabilitation most certainly awaits.
Kyle Buchanan, like all his family members and close friends, has no answers at this point. Only questions. Today’s state meet provides a much-needed diversion for all.
“This is a sad situation, but Kyle is handling it well,” Jane said. “(Chris) has a nurse that watches him 24-7. It’s very hard. We’re there every day and are hoping for the best.”