Ryan Davis has been an avid hunter for as long as he can remember.
The Columbia High assistant baseball coach vividly recalls the day he killed his first deer at the age of 14 and talks about dove season with unfettered zeal.
“I hunt across the board, but I can’t wait for the beginning of September because that’s dove season,” Davis says. “Me and about five or six of my buddies get together and we do a field every year. We live for September.”
The 36-year-old Foxworth native never misses a dove season — until last year.
On Sept. 21, 2012, Davis’ life changed forever, when he had his left leg amputated just below the knee.
Nine months earlier — on Dec. 23, 2011 — near the end of an afternoon hunt, Davis fell from a deer stand. After a nearly 10-foot drop, his right foot hit the ground.
“When I hit the ground, I had that sense that I’m going to be OK,” the 6-foot-5 West Marion graduate said. “Before I could even get that thought halfway through my mind, my left foot hit.”
Davis’ left tibia and fibula shattered completely — his leg “mangled,” as Davis describes it.
Columbia head baseball coach Greg Owen was hunting a couple hundred yards away when he heard the violent crash.
“I had never heard that sound before in the woods,” Owen said. “Immediately I knew something was wrong.”
After a tension-filled hour on a plot of land Davis’ family owns in the Bunker Hill community in Marion County, the pair began making their way toward help. Another hour-and-a-half after that, Davis arrived at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg.
Two weeks later, Davis had 19 screws and two plates inserted into his leg in the first of nine surgeries.
Shortly after the initial reconstructive surgery, Davis developed a bone infection he could never shake. So on Sept. 21, he opted to have his leg amputated in what he says was “the best decision I made.”
Davis not only missed last dove season, he was also unable to coach last baseball season. But he returned this season, in uniform, and has helped guide the Wildcats to a 21-6 record and a spot in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
And outfitted with a — fittingly camouflage — prosthetic, Davis is already looking forward to September.
“I wasn’t able to walk very much during deer season,” he said. “But it’s turkey season now, and, bud, I can pick ’em up and put ’em down with the best of ’em. It’s getting better every day.”
‘I thought I was going to die’
Davis admits the thought of death crossed his mind numerous times.
From laying on the ground bleeding for an hour in a remote area of Marion County to a five-day stay in the intensive care unit when his kidneys nearly shut down after his second surgery to the day-to-day struggle of living with such an injury, Davis said it got to the point where he was ready to give up the fight.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I told my wife, ‘I’m ready to go home, to heaven. I’m ready not to hurt anymore.’ It got serious.”
But Davis’ wife, Vickie — who he said never left his side — set him straight. The couple has two children, Gavin and Kaydence, who were 5 years and 7 months old at the time of the accident.
“She said, ‘You can get that out of your mind right now,'” Davis said. “She brought me the babies the next day and it melted my heart. I realized it wouldn’t be fair to her or my children for me to check out and leave her and the babies behind.”
A source of motivation
So a decision was made.
Rather than wallowing in self pity, Davis opted to make the best of the situation.
“I wanted to be able to halfway walk and be able to hit fungo and do everything normal,” he said. “Be able to be a normal coach and not have to sit in a chair and hobble here and hobble there.”
Davis was presented with two options: more surgery — including a trio of procedures that doctors said had only a 50 percent to 60 percent chance of working — or amputation.
It was a no-brainer for Davis.
“My doctor told me if I went with amputation, he could have me walking in three months,” he said. “He told me it would take a year or year-and-a-half before I could even attempt to walk after (the other option). I told him, ‘Ain’t no way.'”
Davis had surgery on a Friday and was back at work the following Thursday.
“I had nine months of pain every day,” he said. “Where I had to have somebody sit with me and make sure I got to the bathroom and people driving me around everywhere I went. Then within a week (of the amputation), I was walking on crutches — I’m a walking miracle.”
Which is just how many of his students and players look at it.
Senior catcher Mason Brady said it’s not a subject that gets brought up very often, but it’s always in the back of everyone’s mind.
“Just seeing that is a great motivator,” Brady said. “He’s kept a good attitude about it the whole time. He’s behind us, and we’re all behind him.”
Owen said after Davis’ injury, his players are more likely to persevere when times get tough.
“It’s tough looking at a guy without a leg when you don’t think you can go because of a little bruise,” Owen said. “It certainly gives you a little more want.”