By MICHAEL BURWELL
PANDORA — When Dustin Rieman was three years old, his life changed forever when his right foot had to be amputated because of a lawnmower accident.
Fifteen years later, he continues to prove doctors and doubters wrong by stepping on a basketball court and playing sports with a prosthetic leg.
“It means a lot to me (to be able to play sports),” said Rieman, a 6-foot senior guard on Pandora-Gilboa’s basketball team. “In my mind, when I go back to thinking about ‘Oh this doctor telling me I won’t be able to walk again’ or stuff like that, I just like proving people wrong.
“It just means a lot that I can just go out there and still have fun with my friends and stuff, and I can just be an inspiration for other people, so they can see that nothing is going to stop you.”
Although Rieman doesn’t completely remember the accident in full detail, he remembers parts of it.
He fell and tripped when he was going around a corner of a family friend’s house, and the lawnmower was right there.
“I just didn’t see it coming,” Rieman said.
Rieman had to be life-flighted to Toledo to have his right foot amputated. Almost a year later, he got his first prosthesis.
The end of Rieman’s leg is in the shape of a ball, so when he puts his prosthesis on, he puts a sock on his leg, slips it in the prosthesis, which has a rotating ankle and carbon-fiber foot, and straps it together. He still has use of his right knee, and “the prosthesis is designed to have a little ankle action” as well, according to Rieman.
“Truthfully, I’ve just had it so long, I’m just so used to it” Rieman said. “I’ve really not known life without it.”
Rieman can hobble on his right leg without the prosthesis, but the biggest problem he faces while wearing it is getting sores on the bottom of his leg.
“That’s really frustrating because at that point, I can’t really walk,” Rieman said.
On the court, Rieman has started all 12 games for the Rockets (2-11, 2-3 BVC) at point guard or shooting guard. He’s averaging about three points, two rebounds and an assist and steal per game.
But his impact on the team is more than just numbers.
“He jokes around all the time at practice, he kind of keeps us loose in games,” Pandora-Gilboa head coach Logan Smith said. “He’s a good kid. Take all the basketball and the leg stuff out of it, he’s a good person, and because of what he’s had to overcome…he actually had to overcome real adversity versus anybody else that we have, so that’s saying something.”
Rieman plays about 20-25 minutes a game, according to Smith, who added that Rieman’s game is different than what people would expect considering his situation.
“He’s more of like a slasher, which you would think with his leg, you would think he’s more like a shooter,” Smith said. “He can shoot it, but he’s more of a penetrator and things like that.”
Rieman’s slashing ability has caused him, believe it or not, to break his prosthetic leg or snap his carbon-fiber foot.
“I have had a tendency to be breaking these things because I go pretty rough on them,” Rieman said. “The doctors are always like ‘man what are you doing?’ Playing high school basketball I guess.”
As far as getting negative remarks about his leg from other teams, Rieman said he hasn’t had any, but he thinks “its just more curiosity out of other teams.”
“It’s kind of funny too because nobody really ever gets the courage to be like ‘Dude what’s wrong with your leg?’ They’ll always be asking my teammates like ‘man what’s up with that kids leg?’ And all of my friends are used to it nowadays. They’ve been around it forever too,” Rieman said.
Along with playing basketball, Rieman plays second base for the Rockets’ baseball team. He played midget football when he was younger as well, and currently plays tennis with his uncles.
“They’re quite a bit better than me, but I like to think I can compete with them in tennis,” Rieman said.
Off the court, Rieman has had “positive” attitudes and influences from his family and friends. He also has talked to other kids with prosthetic legs to tell them that “you can get through this if you just push through it.”
“My family always has been there,” Rieman said. “My mom and dad…they’ve always had a strong faith in God, so I’ve always been a strong believer that I can just do all that stuff. My friends have always been there too.
“I have a really strong background in my faith and I like to express it a lot. I just believe that everything happens for a reason. God put me in this situation to show other people that you’re gonna get through it.”
Send an E-mail to Mike Burwell