It was New Year's Day, and Nicholas Walker was relaxing in front of the television, watching South Carolina take a 14-0 halftime lead against Ohio State in the Outback Bowl.
He was hungry for a snack, so he walked into the kitchen, put some french fries in a pan and started cooking.
A few minutes later, the Midland Valley Mustangs' senior was on his way to the hospital, his left hand and left leg smoldering and his track and field season very much in doubt.
That's why today is special for Walker.
When he walks onto the Spring Valley High School track to compete in the South Carolina Class AAA Track and Field Championships, Walker will have a blue glove covering his hand and some scars on his lower appendages.
But there's nothing wrong with his mindset. He wants to win the 110- and 400-meter hurdle events and the 1,600 relay, and in his mind, there's nobody that's going to stop him.
After all, if a grease fire can't derail Walker's season, nothing will.
"He's just such a hard worker," Midland Valley track coach Kenneth Tucker said. "He's one of those kids that you know you don't have to worry about. He always does what he's supposed to be doing when he's supposed to be doing it. But when I first heard, I was very concerned. We'd heard he might have to lose his hands, or that his feet were badly burned. It was hard to get a true report of what happened."
Here, then, is the true report.
While Walker - who, ironically, takes a culinary arts class in school - was cooking the fries, the grease in the pan caught fire. Since Walker realized dousing it with water would be a bad idea, he sprinted through the house looking for something to throw on top of the flames.
A towel, some baking soda, anything.
Finding nothing, Walker decided to throw the pan out the kitchen door into his backyard. But when he picked it up, the scalding grease landed on his arm and some spilled on the floor.
Walker, who was barefoot and home alone, promptly slipped in the hot grease, burning his feet and legs. He struggled to his feet, but slipped and fell again.
Once the fire finally was extinguished, he ran next door to the house of his grandparents, who ended the adventure by taking him to Aiken Regional Medical Center.
"I had to spend a week in the hospital, and I was out of school for about a month," said Walker, who finished seventh in the pole vault last year. "But it never hurt. That was what surprised everybody."
He surprised everybody again when he showed up for track practice in February, ready to run for some state hardware.
"He couldn't do anything with his hands, so pole-vaulting was out," Tucker said. "But we make our pole-vaulters run other events. Last year, I made him run the 400 hurdles, and he won the very first time. I told him he was going to start practicing that."
It pays off today when Walker, who won the 110 in last weekend's Lower State meet and finished fourth in the 400, takes the track - scars and all.
"I want to do well in state," said Walker, who was burned on 60 percent of his hand and will have to wear the blue protective glove for the next year. "I knew I'd have to work hard this year to get there. This whole thing will really means a lot to me."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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