“Be ready to laugh,” Forbes said. “He can talk the head off a doornail. If you don’t have a sense of humor, then you need to go somewhere else.”
Two days before the start of this weekend’s BCAA championships, Burns is the assistant working the stopwatch and keeping track of the bouts during practice. Forbes mans the mat.
Burns can no longer live wrestle, like he did on that fateful Wednesday in March. But he exercises five to six times per week. Doctors appointments have spaced out more over time. Sometimes, Forbes will shout a move and Burns’ head doesn’t “click right to it as it would have before.”
Realizing he has made a difference in people’s lives keeps Burns waking up every morning. During his time in the hospital, Lisa answered calls of condolences, ranging from a U.S. Navy SEAL to a friend visiting the Vatican.
The wrestler’s creed, a quote from Burns printed on a panel and sandwiched between framed photos of district champions on the red walls of the room, reminds each student-athlete of his privilege and responsibility.
“Some kids come to Deerfield and they have a bad time,” said Smith, a junior and co-captain on the team. “Coach Burns brings them into wrestling to put them on the right path. He’s a second father to everyone on the wrestling team.”
Within three weeks of his release from the hospital last spring, his band had a gig called the “Back from the Dead Tour.” But when Tony Viscardi, the lead guitarist, caught Burns complaining one day, he felt the need to chime in.
“Listen, dude, I’ve got a word for you: life,” Viscardi said. “A month ago, you were dead. You’ve got life. You’ve got to quit [this whining] and go ahead and realize what you’re able to do.”
For Burns, it was a reminder of his second chance and what he could make of it.