Lambert's health improves by leaps and bounds

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Considering all that he has been through, Andrew Lambert is putting together a strong indoor season for Southeast Missouri State's track and field program.

Lambert has already compiled several top-five finishes in his specialties of the long jump and high jump, including two seconds (high jump, long jump) and a third (high jump).

Two weekends ago at Southern Illinois University he soared 6 feet 8 1/4 inches in the high jump, which tied his career best and is the top performance in the Ohio Valley Conference this season. He also has the league's second-best long jump, and has already twice gained OVC field athlete of the week honors

Not too bad, especially taking into account that the junior from Sikeston High School saw his status for the entire indoor and outdoor seasons -- and perhaps his career -- placed in jeopardy following a strange incident during an intramural softball game.

"The way Andrew has come back is pretty amazing," said Southeast coach Joey Haines, whose program will host its only meet of the indoor season Friday at the Student Recreation Center, starting at 6 p.m. with field events and 7 p.m. with running events.

Lambert was working for Southeast's intramural sports department as an umpire during a slow-pitch softball game in September.

A player from one of the teams was batting, and he fouled a ball back with two strikes, which constitutes an out. Lambert, stationed behind the plate, said he took several steps back to watch the flight of the ball.

The next thing Lambert knew, an object slammed into his head; the player who fouled out, apparently upset at himself, had thrown the aluminum bat, catching Lambert flush on his right ear.

"I know he didn't mean to hit me, but ..." Lambert said, shaking his head. "I never saw it. I took a couple of steps back to watch the ball and the next thing I knew I was clocked. I was in shock."

Lambert said his right ear, which took the brunt of the impact, got cut significantly and required plastic surgery. He also had a skull fracture.

But that wasn't even the worst part. Lambert lost all hearing in the ear, and three doctors have told him it will be permanent.

In addition, the result of the impact forced Lambert's equilibrium to be way off and he developed vertigo, which leads to dizzy spells. At least one doctor didn't want him to do any kind of physical activity for an entire year.

"But I really didn't want to have to lay off the whole year," Lambert said. "I did a lot of rehab, different kinds of exercises for my equilibrium and balance.

"I took the whole semester off from training for track and just tried to get better. I had doctors who didn't want me to do anything, but I slowly got better, and finally all three of my doctors cleared me to compete."

So far, so good, said Lambert, although he still has subtle reminders of the incident, which, according to Lambert, led to the player who threw the bat being banned from all intramural activities.

"I can tell my balance is just barely off, and every now and then I still get ringing in my ears," he said. "But overall I've come back pretty well."

Much to Haines' surprise.

"He's bounced back quicker than anybody could have thought. The doctors didn't even know if he'd be able to compete again," Haines said. "It's actually been remarkable, because in the high jump so much is balance and equilibrium. But he worked so hard to get back, and he's doing very well. You have to give him a lot of credit."

Lambert, a former track and football standout for Sikeston's Bulldogs, put together solid seasons during his first two years at Southeast.

As a freshman, he was third in the high jump, sixth in the long jump and sixth in the triple jump at the OVC indoor meet, and he placed third in the high jump and fourth in the triple jump at the OVC outdoor championships.

Then last year as a sophomore, Lambert was second in the high jump, third in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump at the OVC indoor, followed by outdoor performances of third in the long jump and ninth in the high jump.

Lambert anticipated even bigger accomplishments for his junior year, and in preparation he had bone spurs removed from both ankles that had been bothering him in the past.

"I was very excited. This was supposed to be my breakthrough year," he said. "Then, while I'm still coming back from the ankle surgeries, I got stuck with that [being hit by the bat]."

Lambert, however, continues to display the same kind of resolve that allowed him to return to action so quickly.

"It's kind of like it's fueled the fire," said Lambert, who ranks No. 10 on Southeast's all-time high jump list. "I don't want to let anything stand in my way.

"I'm almost where I left off last year in the long jump and high jump. I just want to keep going and see what happens."

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