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Former athlete shares story of survival

4/27/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews,net

After what has come to be called a miraculous recovery from a pole-vaulting accident in 2008, Chase Kear still asks himself the big question: Why did I get the second chance?

Kear says his mom said it best: To give a voice.

That's why Kear was at Thomas More Prep-Marian Junior-Senior High School on Friday, delivering his message to three religion classes in the Dreiling Theater. Later in the day, he gave an interview on a local Christian radio station. And, on Wednesday night, he will be in Victoria, spreading the word of his miracle, thanks to what many believe was an intercession by an Army chaplain who died in a prison camp during the Korean War.

After his accident, members of Kear's parish in Colwich prayed to Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun. Kear's recovery was termed "definitely miraculous" by one of the doctors who treated him.

"I ask myself over and over: What do I do?" Kear said. "I still ask myself that. I pray to Father Kapaun: 'Let me know, what do I do?' "

Then, Kear remembers what his mother told him: He is a voice.

"And I am," Kear said. "I'm giving these talks all over the U.S. I'm just a voice, you know."

Life-changing event

On Oct. 2, 2008, Kear was at the second track practice of his sophomore year at Hutchinson Community college. He was a standout pole vaulter in high school at Andale, clearing 15 feet, 4 inches. Kear finished third at the state track meet in 2007, his senior year.

Kear decided he wanted to try to break a pole -- something he told those assembled Friday not to try -- but instead of breaking, the pole flexed, and hurled Kear beyond the landing mat. Kear landed on his head, fracturing his skull.

After being rushed to a Wichita hospital, doctors removed part of Kear's skull to relieve swelling. Kear's parents were told the grim news: Their 19-year-old son's chances of survival were slim, and if he did survive, there would be severe brain trauma.

But the power of prayer, Kear believes, did something doctors couldn't. In addition to the prayers members of his home parish to Father Kapaun, a Facebook page was established, urging people to pray to Father Kapaun, asking him to intercede on Kear's behalf.

"The speed with which I recovered was impossible," Kear said.

While he was in a coma for nine days, Kear said he could hear his loved ones talking to him.

"You can hear when you're in a coma," he said. "It's the scariest thing in the world. More terrifying than I can explain.

"When I finally realized something was wrong, I focused all of my energy -- just do something, anything."

Kear's road to recovery was swift. He was out of the hospital and in rehabilitation in less than a month.

"And I recovered," Kear said. "I went to rehab. I was doing things in hours and days that most people, with the severity of my injury, it would take months and years to do these things -- if ever.

"I was doing things so quick, the doctors' jaws dropped. They didn't understand it."

Story of Kapaun

Chaplain Kapaun was awarded the nation's highest honor, the Medal of Honor, in 2013 for his heroic actions on the battlefield and while as a prisoner of war from Nov. 1, 1950, until his death in the Chinese prison camp in North Korea on May 23, 1951, at age 35.

While assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, Kapaun was attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment. During the battle of Unsan, Chinese Communist forces encircled the battalion, and Kapaun provided comfort to the wounded while under enemy fire.

After the Americans were captured, Kapaun personally saved one wounded soldier from being killed. Kapaun pushed the enemy soldier away, and helped his wounded comrade walk to the prison camp.

Under dismal conditions in the prisoner-of-war camp, Kapaun comforted those around him and stole food from the enemy. He urged his fellow soldiers to resist Chinese brainwashing tactics.

When Kapaun's health began to fail, the enemy transferred him to a filthy, unheated hospital. Other prisoners later said few walked out of that hospital alive, and Kapaun died alone.

While being transferred to the hospital, Kapaun asked God's forgiveness for his captors.

"He is cool," Kear said of Kapaun. "I would have loved to meet him."

Kapaun was born April 20, 1916, on a farm outside Pilsen in Marion County. He was ordained a priest at what is now Newman University in Wichita.

Rev. John Hotze, the judicial vicar of the Wichita Diocese was in charge of the sainthood investigation. There needed to be two provable miracles.

In 2008, a Cause for Sainthood was made. In 2009, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, the Roman Postulator for Kapaun's cause for canonization, arrived in Wichita to conduct interviews to consider Kear's recovery as a miracle from the intercession by Kapaun.

Moving forward

Kear, who was born in Hays and lived here through the first grade, is back home in Colwich now. He works part-time at the Walmart in Goddard and is taking classes online to complete his degree at Hutchinson CC.

In the fall, he plans to attend Fort Hays State University and major in communications and public relations.

He also has been the pole vault coach at Hutchinson CC, and Kear decided he wanted to pole vault again. Just 18 months after his accident, Kear cleared 10-6.

"Top of the world," was how he felt, Kear said.

Kear, 25, also has done magazine and newspaper interviews, and the ABC news magazine show, "20/20" interviewed him for a story. But he said the road since his recovery has had a few bumps, including his girlfriend deciding not to marry him.

"It hasn't all been good, but that's life," Kear said.

Through it all, Kear has relied on his faith.

"It's nice to have something, to hold onto something," Kear said. "My faith is something that's always there. It's a part of me."