OUTPOURING OF LOVE

Clay High School wrestler Cody Underwood headed for the nearest blood donation center immediately after learning volunteer coach Mark Detoro was critically injured and left for dead by a hit-and-run driver along U.S. 301 near Ocala. He soon learned that several teammates were a step ahead of him. "I kept calling people and they said they've already been" to the Florida Georgia Blood Alliance in Orange Park, said Underwood, who is also class president. "I've never donated blood before, but I skipped dinner and took a friend with me. "I was in shock," he said. "A week earlier he was in my corner at the state [wrestling] tournament." Personable, energetic and one of the finest athletes to graduate from Clay High in recent years, the 26-year-old Detoro had challenged himself to complete a 100-mile bicycle ride, mainly to stay in shape before heading for National Guard boot camp later this year. He left home on Monday morning, March 2. No one knows what happened near U.S. 301 and Florida 441, or even what time the hit-and-run occurred. It was only by chance that a Marion County sheriff's deputy discovered an unconscious Detoro on the southbound shoulder of the road - about 70 feet from his bicycle - at 8:45 p.m. Florida State Trooper Thomas Dillon arrived minutes later, but declined to elaborate. "He did lose a lot of blood," Dillon said. "I'll leave it at that." Detoro was flown to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where doctors worked on him for three days before amputating his right leg just above the knee. He since has had a second surgery. Dillon said there was no evidence to help investigators determine the make, model or color of the vehicle that sent Detoro skidding across the pavement. "We've got absolutely nothing to go on. There were no skid marks, no vehicle parts, nothing." Wilma Naylor of the Florida Georgia Blood Alliance said Detoro's case has created "some of the busiest days we've had here," and that the alliance has collected more than 236 units in his name. Clay High faculty and administrators pooled $500 in cash less than two hours after hearing the news, according to Principal Pete McCabe. "It hit us all pretty hard," said McCabe, who delivered the money to help Manuel "Manny" Detoro and his wife, Jo, pay for lodging and out-of-pocket expenses in Gainesville. "We care so much for Mark and his family." Manny Detoro said he and his wife have been humbled by the outpouring of compassion. "I didn't know he touched so many hearts," he said. Head wrestling coach Jim Reape described Detoro as "a 5-foot-10, 210-pound block of muscle" who was "hell on wheels" throughout his high school career. Detoro still holds the single-season record for sacks he set while playing nose guard his senior year, and he went on to place second in the state wrestling tournament before qualifying for state weightlifting competition and the state track meet. Manny Detoro is confident that his son, who earned a bachelor's degree at the University of North Florida, will have a successful career. "The National Guard people told me that others have made it through boot camp with artificial legs," he said. "He'll be an inspiration to others. "He'll be angry for three or four days after he finds out what happened, but after that he won't even hate the person who ran over him. He'll forgive whoever it was." Clay High School wrestling coach Jim Reape visited Mark Detoro on Wednesday and sent out this e-mail to school staff. It is reprinted here with permission. "I saw Mark and it was a heavy emotional experience. He is awake, aware of his amputation, a little medicated but running through the emotions with amazing resolve and strength. He asked a lot about other people and was very touched with all the support. It was a strain to speak after nine days with a tube in his throat. They brought him the lung exerciser where you breath in and make the yellow ball rise. Mark took to it like a workout. They asked for 10 reps an hour; he did 10 sets in 30 minutes until his mom and I took it away from him. But I saw his desire to start therapy, to get going, to take control of his life again right there. He got tired and started to drift. There was this sadness below the surface but great resolve about him. As he fell asleep I couldn't help but lean forward and kiss his forehead. As I left, I was a bit startled at my own gesture. I am not "Captain Affection" by any means. Hell, it has taken me 15 years to get used to all the hugging Southerners are so comfortable with. As I drove, I was still thinking about it. I kept recalling the end of the movie "Patton." George C. Scott as Patton finds a wounded and battle-weary lieutenant resting against a disabled tank. After the young officer briefs him, Patton is so moved that he leans forward and kisses him on the forehead. There it was. I had gone to the hospital to be a source of encouragement and strength to Mark. I planned to be calm, rational and encouraging ... in coach mode really. For 15 years that is what I have preached. "Obstacles are just things to overcome." "Life will be hard, accept it and press on," etc. But here he was really fighting the fight. Leaning up against his disabled tank. The pain of his experience just below the surface but this resolve that he would soon return to the fight ... no matter how terrible and demanding. Funny, the moments where we see the beauty in this world."
-- Coach Reape

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