This past summer, senior Fergal Barry finally received what he was waiting for.
“I got my teeth,” Barry said. “I had no teeth for a year and half.”
On St. Patrick’s Day in 2012, Barry, a native of Ireland, was hospitalized after suffering severe injuries in a hit-and-run accident while riding his bike around 7 a.m. to the Schuylkill River to prepare for competition against Rutgers that day.
“His bike was crushed,” coach Gavin White said. “His bike was still stuck underneath her car. The officer said there was no way the person who was on that bike lived.”
“An eyewitness saw and she said he rolled right over top of the windshield of the woman’s car and flew about 50 feet in the air,” White added. “The guys who picked him up off the street told me they almost drove past him. He looked like a homeless guy. They didn’t realize it was Fergal. They saw him lying on the side of Diamond Street.”
White rushed to the emergency room at Temple University Hospital and said he was terrified at what he saw.
“He had the worst cut on his leg you’d ever seen on a human being,” White said. “It was like they cut the flesh [from just below his knee to his ankle] and rolled it down. You could see the muscle and bone. I watched them clean up that wound on his leg and I almost passed out. He completely knocked all of his teeth out in the front.”
Barry also tore his carotid artery. But despite lying in a hospital bed, Barry was determined to return to the river.
“He was drugged up,” White said. “He said, ‘Coach, I will be back this Tuesday.’ The nurse looked at me and shook her head.”
Barry’s teammates were supportive while he was recovering.
“When I got knocked down, there were tons of people who kept dropping off food at my house,” Barry said. “Guys on the team’s mothers, who I didn’t even know, were dropping stuff off. My roommates were delighted with it, they got a feast.”
The nine-year veteran of the sport watched the remainder of the season from the shore. Nevertheless, the team was confident he would return to the Schuylkill.
“I thought he was going to be back even sooner,” senior Zephyr Dippel said. “I think the major drawback for getting back within a week or two was that I think his jugular vein was stretched from getting his neck messed up. But I figured he would be back.”
“I was knocked down in March and it wasn’t until the next September before I really started to get back into it,” Barry said. “I wasn’t allowed to compete until the doctor cleared me around June. I was back home in Ireland for the summertime, and then I trained with one of the guys at my club back at home.”
Barry spent the summer giving back to the community by getting back on his bike. He, along with former crew team members Mike Mirabella and Ryan Rickus, participated in Cycle4Awareness, a cause that helps fundraising efforts toward Athletes Helping Athletes, Inc. The trio biked 1,800 miles in 18 days, stopping at various summer camps and support groups that help special needs children.
Now, every day at 6 a.m. Barry and the rest of his teammates can be found practicing on the Schuylkill River preparing for their next competition. In his final year with the Owls, Barry continues to serve as a role model for the rest of the team.
Barry was chosen this fall by his teammates to be a captain. He described himself as a “rowing nut.”
“I am crazy when we are down here at the river,” Barry said. “I try to get the best out of people.”
“He is just a machine, a rowing machine,” White said. “He just tears it up. He’s a beast. That’s the best way to describe him. He just goes and goes. He has the highest GPA on the team. He’s the complete package.”
But Barry is careful in not letting his own work ethic dominate that of his teammates.
“I like to think that I let the guys have a lot of room to maneuver, room to do what they want to do,” Barry said. “It’s on them if they want to work. If they don’t want to work, I am not going to be too pushy about it.”
After the crew team demonstrated excellence in a recent rowing machine test, Barry decided to show his teammates how much he appreciated their hard work.
“Twenty-three out of 25 guys got personal bests, which is unheard of,” White said. “Fergal sent them a little note. All I asked him to do was to send me the scores, but he sent a note to everyone saying how good of a job they did.”
Through everything Barry has gone through, his coach commended him for his toughness, which he said he hopes the young team will grasp very soon.
“If I went to war tomorrow and they handed me a rifle and said, ‘Who would I want next to me in the trenches?’ it would be Fergal,” White said.
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.