Football players are always a little rusty at the first practice of the season, but 17-year-old Zach Round surprised everyone — considering a brain tumor and 13 subsequent surgeries left him in a wheelchair just last year.
While Zach, a junior at JSerra Catholic High School in California, said he still has muscle weakness on his right side and has a hard time moving faster than a jog, he said his first football practice of the season left him inspired and motivated to get back to full mobility.
“I was really excited,” he told InsideEdition.com. “I really got out there. I did everything to the best of my abilities. I did okay … I was a little rusty, I got beat a couple times, not going to lie. But I was really excited.”
Zach explained he was on a routine mountain biking trip — one he took nearly every day — in January 2017 when he missed a jump and landed on his head.
“I wasn’t scared, necessarily. I was like, ‘I ate it,'” he joked. “I was like, ‘Well, I could get up. I could probably walk away.’ But it was probably best for me to stay down where I was.”
Other mountain bikers called for help, and let his mom know her son was being airlifted to the hospital.
When they arrived, the doctors performed a routine full body CT scan to check for concussions and any internal injuries.
That’s when they discovered a large tumor on his brain stem.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Am I going to die?’” Zach recalled. “I don’t want to die yet. I still have a long life ahead of me.”
When doctors began explaining the many surgeries he had ahead of him, “my other main concern was, ‘When they are done with the operation, am I going to be the same?'”
He received his heartbreaking answer after the first surgery, when a nick in the nerves left him with sixth and twelfth nerve palsy, and double vision.
While the tumor was successfully removed, he received 12 more surgeries over the course of the following year, and battled bacterial meningitis, hydrocephalus, kidney stones and other infections.
The hardest part in recovery, Zach said, was learning to walk again.
“It was rough — I hated it,” he said. “It was mental, it was bad, I was frustrated. I worked on it for four or five hours every day, just worked really hard at it because I just hated sitting around and watching everybody else work hard. I wanted to work hard myself.”
Zach said he was able to get back up and walking within months, and while doctors said getting back to his full range of motion will take time, Zach said he can’t wait to get back on his mountain bike.
“He’s such a warrior,” his mom said.