BURKE, Va. (WUSA9) — In one second, the star pitcher for Lake Braddock lost his game. Nick Balenger was paralyzed in a swimming accident in Hawaii last summer when he dove into shallow water. But after months of hard work, he accomplished a difficult goal on Wednesday and amazed everybody watching the graduation ceremony.
“It’s a day of celebration, that’s for sure!” said Sylvie Balenger, Nick’s mother.
The high school senior had to forget about being the Bruin’s star pitcher and set new goals.
“Just keep on working. No matter what’s in front of you, just keep pushing,’ said Nick.
Three months after his accident, he surprised his classmates at the Homecoming game and stood with the help of two friends. But today’s accomplishment blew that away. Nick got out of his wheelchair and walked not just a few steps — but an astonishing 50 feet using a walker, the length of the stage — and received his diploma.
“Ever since I got hurt I said my goal was to be on stage walking across and going down the steps,” Nick said. “It feels great to accomplish it.”
When his classmates saw Nick walking and then using just a cane to walk down the steps, they rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. He didn’t see it, because he had to look down to see his feet, but he heard it.
“I was focusing on walking. I almost got blown over by everybody just screaming. It was awesome. It felt great,” he said.
Nick only uses a wheelchair at school and his classmates have really only seen him stand a few times. So when he got up and walked today, it was a big surprise.
“He sets his own personal goals. He just works his butt off and gets it done,” said Steve Balenger, Nick’s father.
“Every injury is different, that’s what we’re told. But I think his hard work, and also [that there’s] so many people being behind him and supporting him,” said Sylvie. “He said he didn’t want to disappoint anyone.”
Nick says he plans to attend James Madison University in the fall. The Balenger’s say Nick’s spinal cord is not completely severed and that doctors tell him that 95 percent recovery is within the realm of possibility. Nick’s goal is 100%.