BROOKSVILLE, Ky. — Players on the Bracken County High School baseball team dedicated their season to a teammate facing life-threatening challenges. They never imagined that same teammate would later save their season.
In February, Clayton Thompson noticed his feet were numb.
"Clayton came home and said my feet are numb," his mother, Sarah Thompson, said. "I was like, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'When I walk, my feet are numb.'"
Thompson was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves. If untreated, severe cases can lead to paralysis.
"I would wake up every day and I'd be able to move my body less and less," Thompson said. "I'd be able to raise my arm one day and then the next day, it would be a little less. Then I couldn't at all."
It reached a point where Thompson could not walk, talk or make facial expressions.
"He had to re-learn how to walk," his mom said. "He could not walk. He couldn't sit himself up in bed."
With a typical recovery time of six months to a year, doctors told Thompson he would not be able to play baseball in the spring. His coach, Rob Krift, said the team kept him involved, FaceTiming him before the first game of the season.
"Right before we took the field we FaceTimed with us. He couldn't even talk to us, he'd just look at us," Krift said. "Probably the strongest, the fittest and the nicest kid on the team — the kid always has a smile on his face — and for him not to be able to smile, it hurts you."
Everyone was hopeful Thompson would be able to play the following season, but on April 27, No. 20 was medically cleared to play again.
"There's always a chance," Thompson said. "You just have to put in the work, you have to know yourself — that you can get better ... and you will be able to do it."
Not even a month later, in the district semifinals, Bracken County was down three runs in extra innings to their cross-town rivals. The opposing pitcher intentionally walked a teammate in hopes of getting an out from Thompson.
"If you see a guy intentionally walked in front of you to get to you, you have a chip on your shoulder," Krift said. "I called time and I walked straight up to Clayton and I said, 'Clayton ... they're going to throw a first-pitch fastball ... don't miss it.' And he said, 'OK, coach.'"
With the game — and the season — on the line, Thompson stepped up to bat.
"You get up there and the bases are loaded and you have to make a play," Thompson said. "My main thought was just 'hit the ball.' And it was right down the middle, it couldn't have been any more perfect."
Thompson drove in three runs to tie the game. The same boy who could not lift an arm two months prior stood on second base with both fists in the air, celebrating the hit. Bracken County would win the game on a walk-off.