Simon Knudtson’s biggest concern isn’t that he had major back surgery less than two years ago, removing a benign tumor from his lower spine and fusing a couple of his vertebrae.
It’s not that he still has a metal plate about the size of the palm of his hand along with a couple of rods and screws holding things together in his lower back.
And it isn’t that he might be still be a bit rusty after returning to the soccer field for Oshkosh West this fall after missing his entire junior season and having taken a whole year to get healthy again.
None of that seems to enter the mind of the Oshkosh West senior. But Knudtson does have things to be concerned about.
“The only thing I’m a little worried about,” Knudtson said sitting in a nearly empty Titan Stadium before a game earlier this season, “is they still haven’t sent me a card for when I go through airport security saying that I have metal in my back.”
Knudtson’s ordeal started in the summer of 2010 when, after a couple years of persistent back pain, a tumor on the second vertebrae up from his tailbone was discovered.
It was quickly found to be benign, but it still had to be removed. And with any kind of surgery on or near the spine, there was a risk of paralysis.
But Knudtson, who was also suffering from severe scoliosis, knew something had to be done.
“I was definitely scared going in, but I knew that doing this, I would be able to play again,” said Knudtson, who had the surgery in December of 2010 at the Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee. “There was a chance if they did the surgery wrong, I could have been paralyzed. But the doctors they were really good at what they do.”
Knudtson came through the surgery with flying colors — along with the hardware in his lower back — but the procedure wouldn’t be the most difficult part of the process.
Essentially there was no rehabilitation to be done — just rest and taking it easy. By that, doctors meant little activity of any kind.
“I watched a lot of TV,” Knudtson said with a laugh.
Still the adjustment going from being an active teenager, who played soccer and his drum set just about every day, to a person who had little, if any, physical activity was not an easy transition.
“I would say it was a little hard,” Knudtson said. “It was a year of that. It took a year to heal back up.”
During that year of downtime was Oshkosh West’s 2011 boys soccer season — a campaign that Knudtson figured to be a part of after playing on varsity as a sophomore.
Knudtson wanted to remain a part of the team and head coach Matt Callahan wanted to keep him involved. It was just a matter of finding a way to do it without jeopardizing Knudtson’s health.
Callahan had started a Twitter account to tweet about Oshkosh West soccer — including in game updates. Of course, someone not involved in the game had to do it and Knudtson was the perfect fit.
“We told him that we’d like to have him involved anyway he was able and willing,” Callahan said. “We had started the tweeting thing last year and he expressed an interest in that and we were glad to have him. He came with us to all of our games and it was great to keep him involved and help us expand that part of our team.”
Knudtson was thankful for the chance to remain part of the squad, even if he couldn’t play.
“I was glad to know that I was going to be involved with the team somehow,” Knudtson said. “I wanted to do everything I can for the team.”
Callahan, too, was happy to see that it gave Knudtson a reason to remain involved. Just like his teammates, he was at practice and every game, feeling the ebb and flow of the season’s results.
It also kept him interacting with his teammates, even if it wasn’t necessarily soccer they were discussing.
“The guys they would always be looking to get their name on Twitter a little bit, so they would be talking to Simon to see what he could do,” Callahan recalled. “He was definitely involved with the team.”
A couple months after the end of West’s season, Knudtson got the news he had been waiting for — he was cleared to return to the soccer field in December of 2011.
His first game back, an indoor soccer contest, illustrated the fact he had just spent the last year doing pretty close to nothing.
“I was just out of breath the whole time. I was so out of shape,” Knudtson said.
But in his second indoor soccer game a week later, he notched a hat trick. And he knew everything was going to be fine.
“I was really worried about being rusty,” Knudtson said. “But it was really relieving knowing I can play again.”
The more Knudtson played, the more he regained his stamina, strength and his skills on the soccer field.
When the high school season began in August, Knudtson was physically ready to go. Yet, Callahan was rightfully nervous about sending the senior into the physical competition of a match.
“The doctors tell you he’s OK to go, but it’s still in the back of your mind a little bit that he’s had some major issues,” Callahan said. “Once he got out there on the field and started playing, it was evident he was fine.
He even tallied a goal in the Wildcats’ win over Hartford in the season opener.
“I came out on the field (against Hartford) not really expecting to do a lot,” said Knudtson, a reserve midfielder for the Wildcats. “It was really good to know that I actually went out did something for the team in my first game for West.”
It was a goal the whole team celebrated.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Callahan said. “The excitement on his face and the excitement on his teammates faces. They were so excited for him. It was phenomenal to see.”
For much of the season, that was the only goal Knudtson had scored for the Wildcats, although he has registered a handful of assists in helping West once again contend in the Fox Valley Association.
Whatever he produces on the field, Callahan is just happy to see him playing.
“I’m sure a lot of people would have just bowed out and taken it easy,” Callahan said. “But he did a great job of recovering and coming back.”
And since he’s been back, he’s had nothing to be concerned about and doesn’t expect any complications from the procedure moving forward — that is once he gets his medical card to pass through airport metal detectors.
“(No concerns) at all. I don’t even have to get the metal taken out of my back,” Knudtson said. “(The doctors) told me, the part where they did the surgery is actually stronger than a normal person in that part of the back. I can do everything.”