POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. (KY3) - College of the Ozarks junior cross country runner Jeremy Wood has things in perspective.
“I love running, but it's only going to last until the end of my college career, you know?” he said. “If I have to give that up to save my aunt's life it's well worth it.”
He backed up that line of thinking this past April when he donated his liver to his ailing aunt, Anne Ball.
The idea came to him quickly after hearing she needed a transplant, “I was like, 'hey, I could do that. I don't have a job or a family to support. I've just got college.'”
So, on April 11, he went under the knife. As if he didn’t know it going in, the West Plains native realized that the recovery would be tough soon after waking up.
“When I was doing physical therapy and they had me walk up and down the hall it was a really slow process and I was like, 'wow, this is really hard. I can't imagine what running would be like,'” Wood said.
He spent seven days in the hospital, but came out determined to get back into running shape.
“I wasn't too concerned with his running, I was more concerned with coaching him through that life decision,” his coach, Clint Woods, said. “Obviously, helping an aunt or someone in that situation is way more important than running.”
“I just slowly built up over the summer, and by the time the season rolled up I wasn't quite where I needed to be, but summer training definitely helped,” Wood said of his slow march back into form.
His times are already within 30 seconds of his previous bests. He missed out on a berth in the national meet by two spots.
“That's insane,” teammate Nick White said. “Nobody thought he would be this close to where he is already. He's made a tremendous recovery. I'm excited to see what he can do next year.”
His teammates were supportive, and even drew replicas of the scar across his torso on their own stomachs as a surprise for his birthday in October.
“I definitely give a lot of credit to my coach and my teammates for helping me along the whole way,” Wood said. “Coach [Woods] was really encouraging and reminding me not to make excuses for myself and keep pushing forward.
“It'd be great to go to nationals, but just to be where I am on the team, I'm really grateful. I don't really count it as a loss at all.”
His aunt is also doing well. They don’t get to see each other much these days, though Wood says it can get emotional when they do.
But, it’s not all serious.
“She brags about how she has the youngest liver in her neighborhood,” Wood said. “But, just knowing that I could help her out is great.”