Ethan Kibbe grabs the baton from his teammate. It’s been some time since he’s been on a track.
He’s still in pain.
His body isn’t what it used to be.
Ailing, he runs.
. . .
Eyes fixed on a clock on the wall, Kibbe spent weeks lying in bed, enduring the slow passing of time and waiting for his next dose of pain meds.
Daytime television, the short hand on the clock and Percocet.
For two weeks at home, that was Kibbe’s life.
Two years before that, he had been one of Pennsylvania’s top high school runners. Now, he could barely move.
As a standout at Northern Potter High School in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, Kibbe set school records in both cross-country and track. As a senior, he finished ninth at the state meet in the 800-meter run.
His success led him to sign a National Letter of Intent to run alongside his older brother and former teammate Steven, a senior captain on the St. Bonaventure University men’s cross-country team.
“Running with my brother in college would have meant the world to me, had it happened,” said the younger Kibbe.
A painful core-muscle injury kept him from competing in his freshman season. He never had the chance to run with the man he calls his “favorite teammate of all time.”
After dozens of lab tests and three surgeries performed on his abdomen because of that injury, doctors cleared Kibbe to run the next fall. Steven though, had graduated.
Aside from many sub-par races caused by lack of training, Kibbe’s second year on the team was a step in the right direction. He was competing again, and his perseverance earned him the title of team captain.
After finishing last at the Atlantic 10 Conference cross-country championship meet his sophomore season, Kibbe said he thought his career had reached rock bottom.
He was wrong.
Running by himself on Oct. 6, 2016, Kibbe approached an intersection, just as he had during countless other runs. After checking for traffic, he proceeded to cross the road.
“The next thing I knew, I was flying,” he said.
Landing in a lane of oncoming traffic, Kibbe lay flat on his back in a pool of his own blood— his life pouring onto the chilly October pavement.
Windshield glass lacerated his left side, his arm was broken and his tibia protruded from the flesh of his left leg.
He had been hit by a car.
Laying there, Kibbe remembers asking paramedics if he would survive.
Paramedics reset Kibbe’s leg in the middle of the road before loading him onto a helicopter bound for the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York. The next morning, doctors operated on his mangled leg, inserting four screws and a metal rod running from his knee to his ankle. They set his broken arm and removed pieces of windshield from his body. Kibbe spent the next week in the hospital and the following two in a bed his parents set up for him in their living room.
Here, Kibbe kept his eyes fixed to a clock on the wall.
“I just lay there. That was my existence for two weeks,” said Kibbe. “You take a pain pill, feel good for about a half hour, then stare at the clock for the next three and a half hours before you can take another.”
Three weeks after the accident, Kibbe returned to school— in a wheelchair and needing assistance with the most menial tasks. The once elite runner could no longer move about campus without help.
Slowly he healed. After two months in the wheelchair, he walked with crutches for the first time. Determined to compete again, he spent hours in the university’s weight room. Here, Darryn Fiske, the university’s head strength and conditioning coach, helped him rebuild his atrophied muscles.
“When he first started getting back to lifting, I saw a kid who wasn’t sure of himself,” said Fiske. “You could tell he was thinking, ‘Is this really what I should be doing right now?’”
“But as he continued lifting and seeing results, we all knew he’d be running again someday,” said Fiske.
That day came on April 9, 2017. At a meet in Rochester, New York, St. Bonaventure cross-country and track coach Bob Macfarlane found his 4×800 meter relay one man short.
The options— find someone or forfeit.
Kibbe volunteered to run in the event. Before heading down to the track, he put on his uniform for the first time in more than two years.
Macfarlane told Kibbe he didn’t have to finish the race,
Kibbe never quits, though.
As the relay’s anchor, he grabbed the baton and ran the entirety of the final leg.
It was slow. Very slow. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that it happened.
He finished the race, hugged his teammates and coaches and got on the team bus with tears in his eyes, having realized he just competed for his team again.
. . .
Kibbe could have said “no” to his coach that day. But, despite pain, he ran his leg for the sake of his team.
“Ethan epitomizes what it means to be a captain,” said Macfarlane. “A captain doesn’t have to be the best athlete, but rather the one who puts the team before themselves.”
Today, Kibbe is slowly returning to competition— taking baby steps to feel a sense of normalcy in his stride again.
Although his once record-breaking athletic ability has left him, his success in sports journalism has flourished. He’s the voice of on-campus sporting events, works at the local radio station, served as sports editor for St. Bonaventure’s student-ran newspaper and has worked as a production intern with SiriusXM’s NBA radio.
Sports fill Kibbe’s thoughts. One in particular though, will always stand out more than others.
The sport that has given, and taken, so much from him.