By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
On Oct. 25, Commerce Tigers’ senior defensive back Al Jackson fractured his C5 vertebrae while making a tackle against Howe. Surgery performed the next day fused his C3-C6 vertebrae together, and he began the long and painful process of learning how to perform basic motor functions.
On Nov. 13, he walked back into Commerce High School, an incredible amount of progress in such a short time period.
In a recent doctor’s visit, Al was cleared to return to school with some restrictions and his staples were removed. Physical therapy was ordered for his left hand, but the doctor said that he will regain full mobility in both hands and legs. But Al also received some bad news.
“The doctor went over the injury itself in detail, and explained how the front fracture needs to heal,” Al’s mother, Teri Miller, said. “They delivered the blow I knew was coming: no contact sports for Al, ever.”
Miller said Al has relied on sports to give him direction, and that he took the news hard.
“At 18 years old, sports is pretty much your life,” she said. “He was pretty devestated.”
Miller said they’ve begun to focus on Al’s academics, and that he’s getting everything lined up so that he can graduate in May. He will take the ACT in February, since he had to reschedule after his injury. Commerce High School coaches are working on ways to integrate Al back into CHS athletics in a support role.
“I think he’s going to be OK,” Miller said. “We’re going over what his options are for school, focusing on school work and making sure he has everything he needs go graduate.”
Al returned to the football field for Commerce’s final game of the season against Caddo Mills on Nov. 8.
“It was hard for him, but he did really well,” Miller said. “Before the game he said several times ‘I wish I could play.’”
Miller said Al was nervous before the game, but that he had a lot of company and stood for most of the game.
“He met one of the EMTs that was on duty that night and shook his hand,” she said. “He was really proud to be a captain; that really meant a lot.”
Miller said the community has been very supportive. Commerce ISD campuses have raised hundreds of dollars through “free dress days,” and numerous other local fundraisers have helped defray Al’s medical costs.
“We had a woman in California order us Dominos for dinner on Sunday,” Miller said. “Even though we don’t need anymore food, [the support] has been amazing.”
Donations can be made to help pay for Al’s medical costs at any Alliance Bank location in the area, as long as the donation is made to the Al Jackson Medical Fund. But Miller said what Al needs the most right now is emotional support.
“He’s at a crossroads,” she said. “A lot of people have told him that God has a purpose behind this, but he’s just not sure what that purpose is.”
Miller emphasized the need to keep Al motivated, and said she’s mentioned other sports he could try.
“Having been a track athlete in the past, I told him he could try track,” she said. “I said ‘you know you’re fast and you’re pretty good at it.’ And then the smile came back.”