Ashland Physical Therapy is an old, gutted-out service station in downtown Ashland.
Ashland Physical Therapy is an old, gutted-out service station in downtown Ashland. Floor to ceiling windows cover the whole front side of the building, and the sole proprietor, Mike Siegl, likes to people watch.
"Is he going to come look for food first or come in and hit me?" Mike asks his receptionist as Talon Haggard rolls into the parking lot in his beat-up blue pickup, a Lariat XLT.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback was a force for Ashland High's football team as a senior, leading the league in both rushing and passing and earning League Offensive Player of the Year and All-State honors. But right now the southpaw is in rehab after a surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Talon walks through the door and heads straight to a treatment table, where he pulls out a Rockstar and bag of chicken strips from 7-Eleven.
As Talon chows down on his afternoon snack, Mike walks across the room where he picks up The Dart, a handheld Nerf gun with a thumb tack erected on the end of the foam missile. To Mike, pain is more of a game than a serious matter with his younger patients. His receptionist, Lori, an intern named Shea, and another patient, Nacho, all watch closely as Mike raises the gun and aims it at Talon.
"He deserves this," Shea says as Mike shoots and the tack plunges into Talon's leg just below his khaki cargo shorts. Talon doesn't flinch. He just reaches down and pulls the dart out of his leg.
"Talon doesn't feel pain," Mike says, reassuring his audience. And this may be true. Talon may be numb to pain after four surgeries: two on his right shoulder, one on his left, and one on his elbow. He tore the labrum in his right shoulder as a sophomore and, after surgery, re-injured it, requiring another surgery. It left him on the sidelines his junior year, when the football team finished 11-1. Noted as the best high school player Ashland Coach Charlie Hall has ever coached, Talon still wonders what might have been. But right now there is work to be done if Talon is going to play college football.
"One pound, damn it doll, let's go," Mike says, referring to the small Spongebob doll used to rub on a window with a 1-pound weight attached to the wrist. Talon slinks on to a sliding platform meant to be used by people recovering from knee injuries. "Come on Talon work"¦ No motivation," Mike says.
"I was motivated the first time "¦ but now "¦ no motivation," Talon says.
After a few minutes of the damn it doll and a couple other odd exercises, Talon decides to just stick around to wait for his girlfriend Hayley to get out of softball practice. It might not seem like a lot of work, but, so soon after surgery, rehab is all about regaining range of motion and slowly strengthening the shoulder.
"I got paid for sitting and watching TV today," he tells Mike.
"What about running the dog? Did you run the dog?"
"Yeah, they wanted me to," Talon says. "For some reason the people don't think their dogs can be alone for more than two hours, so I just go over there and sit with their dogs."
"For money," Mike says.
"Yeah, I get paid like 30 bucks to watch the NBA playoffs."
As Talon leaves therapy, he give Mike a big hug, then, after slowly walking away, he runs to Mike and side checks him with his body.
"Talon is a lot like a calzone," Mike says as Talon drives away. "You never know what you're going to bite into."
Looking to the future
Talon needs to make money to pay off about $500 worth of fines from the high school. If he doesn't pay the fines off, the school won't allow him to walk during graduation. So right now he runs and walks a pair of dogs for money.
Around 8 a.m. he drives up to the dog owner's house about five blocks away from his. Talon enters the big, white house through the side door and returns with two dalmatians. Sienna is looking energetic and happy, but Buddy is lethargic. He hasn't eaten in a couple days. He has cancer and is going through chemotherapy.
Talon walks both dogs to the end of the driveway then turns around to take Buddy back inside.
As he walks Sienna through a field, Talon talks about his future.
"I want to go down to Arizona and live with my brother," he says. Talon wants to play at Glendale Community College, where he will probably "grayshirt," which means he will join the team next spring, then redshirt the following fall.
"The coach over there said I can be third string QB and play linebacker," Talon says stopping for a moment to make a kiss face at the dog. Sienna jumps up to him and puts her paws on his stomach like they're dancing. "I'm gonna try to play and see how my body holds up. I'm four surgeries deep."
As he returns to the house, he takes off running Sienna around the block. Then he heads for home to hang out with the dog some more and talk with his mother. His mother, Rhonda, is sitting in the living room helping Talon's younger brother and sister get ready for school.
"I think he should go down to Santa Rosa," she says. "They have an excellent football program down there. She says Talon's big brother, Ty, is a great kid, but she has her worries about the two of them rooming together. "I think it's gonna be a big party, a lot of Jack Daniels."
Talon walks in through the front door with Sienna and plops down on a big brown armchair. Sienna comes to him and jumps up in his lap.
As the days start to warm up and Talon's high school career starts to wind down, he spends a lot of time doing the things he likes to do. Like competing at Xbox Live with his online team F1aw1ess. As he sits in his bedroom, reclined in an office chair, Talon shouts into his headset. Talon's good friend Danny watches the action from Talon's bed.
All the intense action of the video game "Call of Duty" has Talon and Danny hungry, and they head for Taco Bell to try and score some cheap treats. Talon apparently is an ace at winning cheap tacos and burritos by landing quarters and dimes onto a platform in a fundraiser Taco Bell puts on for needy kids. Talon peaks in the window to make sure there are no managers around.
"They will only let me have one," he says. "The other people will let me keep on winning the food."
Talon walks up to the game, lines up his quarter, and gracefully plops the quarter onto the platform. He points to the quarter, and the Taco Bell employee types in an order for a burrito.
"It's pretty easy," he says.
After winning two burritos and two tacos, Talon sits down to enjoy his 85-cent meal. He and Danny make plans to go see Hayley at Yogurt Hut as they breeze out the door to enjoy the rest of their day.
It's graduation night and it's pouring. Talon sits in the back of the graduates under the small cover of the amphitheater. Rain-soaked family and friends call out to hurry the commencement. They are soaked.
Talon knows this is a milestone moment and that life is about to change, but he doesn't seem to be ready for it. At least, not tonight.
"I'm a little bit behind right now," when it comes to his therapy, his ability to throw and his chance to play football again, because his doctor tightened up his shoulder. "I have to do more stretching," Talon says.
As for Hayley, the answer's still out. "We kind of talked about it last night, but I couldn't really comprehend things. I remember it all; it just wasn't the right time to have a conversation like that."
The only thing on his mind right now is walking across that stage and getting his diploma. That, and his sunglasses.
"I lost my sunglasses between physical therapy and Taco Bell," he says. "They need to be found."