For many of those who have survived their battles with COVID-19, the fight lasted much more than just a couple of weeks. For an Arizona high school football coach, who spent weeks of 2020 in a coma in the ICU, 2021 has been about battling back to regain what he lost.
To understand why the ability to speak with Russell Stryker today can be described as miraculous, you need to look to where he was a little more than a year ago.
“There is no medical explanation as to why I’m not dead," he said in February of 2021.
A couple of months earlier, in September of 2020, COVID-19 put Stryker in the hospital. He was in a medically induced coma for 72 days.
He survived his fight with the virus. At one point in October, his heart stopped beating, but doctors were able to revive him. When he left the hospital, he was down 50 pounds and relied on a walker as he worked through the grind of rehab.
“It was a slow grind to get strength back," Stryker recalled. "I’m probably, oh I don’t know, health-wise, I feel great. Strength-wise, I might be 50% maybe still. It’s just a long process, and I’m not getting any younger either.”
Stryker is the head coach at Kingman High School in Arizona. His fight with COVID-19 forced him to miss the entire 2020 season, but for 2021 he returned to the sideline.
“Oh man, first game--the first game was just an emotional rollercoaster. I was so happy to be out there coaching again," Stryker said.
In his first game back with the team, Kingman High School won 58-0.
“To be honest, I don’t really think about it all too much,” Stryker said of his fight. "I’m kind of a forward thinker anyway, so I don’t think too much about.”
While Stryker continues to work to erase the scars COVID-19 left on his body, there is a mark that he will have forever-- in the form of a new tattoo on his forearm that reads "hard to kill."
“I told my wife I might not be the toughest guy, but I am pretty hard to kill,” he said. “But I wouldn’t mind getting that tattoo on my body at some point.”
It’s a reminder of what it took to survive and what it takes to battle back.