ADAMS – October 13, 2017. The Freeman Falcons are hosting the Palmyra Panthers in a crucial East Central Nebraska Conference matchup. It’s a close game throughout, which is expected when these two teams play each other.
Senior Falcons’ wide receiver Michael Gronewold runs a perfect route. Senior quarterback Jacob Gramann delivers a perfect pass to Gronewold, who makes the catch and steps out of bounds. It looks like Freeman is going to take it down the field and score.
A Palmyra player comes in late and hits Gronewold. He falls hard on his right collarbone, breaking it in five places. He’s done for the season. His high school football career is over. A season full of promise goes by the wayside, as the Falcons lose its final two games and miss the playoffs.
It was a feeling all too familiar for Michael Gronewold.
One of the unfortunate ones
The collarbone injury put Gronewold in a familiar place: on the sidelines. It was nothing new for the senior, as he had spent the majority of his football career not being able to play on the field.
Gronewold grew up playing all sports. His favorite sport to watch was football, so playing the sport was a natural fit for him. He played flag football throughout elementary school before continuing his play at the high school level.
When he got to high school, though, is where the injuries piled up for Gronewold. In his freshman season with the Falcons, Gronewold had back spasms that kept him out for three weeks of the season. It was a minor injury compared to what was to come for the soon-to-be Freeman graduate.
After successfully completing his freshman year at Freeman, Gronewold started to grow. He grew three inches in three months, according to his mother, Pam. This set the stage for the next setback in Gronewold’s athletic career.
On the first day of football conditioning practice, the then-sophomore fractured his pelvis. He was running the 40-yard dash when it happened. His muscles had developed quicker than his bones due to the offseason workouts he was doing, causing the break. He tried coming back later in the season, but re-strained it making a cut while running a route. His sophomore season was over before it even started.
Gronewold made it through the pelvis injury and came back for football his junior year. He went through most of the season unscathed, until one of the final games of the season against Humboldt-Table Rock-Steinauer. Gronewold, who also played defensive back, stretched out to tackle the Titan running back. The contact from the HTRS player was so strong, that it dislocated Gronewold’s shoulder. Once again, his season was cut short.
And then, the senior year injury happened.
Four years. Four injuries. The last one required a titanium rod be put in Gronewold’s collarbone for eight weeks.
“I tried to look past it, think of better things. I couldn’t think about it too much,” Gronewold said. “It’s life, it happens. I guess I was one of the unfortunate ones to get hurt every season.”
The collarbone injury his senior year had a noticeable effect on Gronewold.
“It was depressing that I couldn’t play anymore. For many days, I wasn’t the same. I was thinking about my teammates all the time,” Gronewold said. “I couldn’t speak. I was afraid to talk to anyone. I tried talking to my coaches to deal with it and look at the positive side of it.”
His parents, Pam and Mark, saw firsthand how the injuries had an effect on their son. The way he responded to the adversity left an impression with them.
“He handled it better than most kids his age would handle it. He has such a drive and determination with everything he does. It was all about working hard and getting back to where he was before the injuries,” Pam Gronewold said.
“We were frustrated for him. It was hard on us, as parents, but we were proud of the way that he handled it,” Mark Gronewold added. “I hope that was a reflection of how we brought him up.”
Interrupting basketball season
Gronewold has been more than a football player in high school. Along with football, the senior has played basketball and track all four years at Freeman. None of the injuries had delayed his basketball season until the collarbone injury occurred. He missed the first five weeks of basketball season because of the injury.
“It affected me a lot. I couldn’t move around, couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do to get back into the groove of things,” Gronewold said. “A couple times, if I was stretching or moving my opponent away in the post, (the collarbone) would cramp up and wasn’t feeling right. It was very frustrating.”
A setback in the recovery time of the injury made matters worse. The titanium rod in his collarbone started moving out of place after a few weeks, forcing him to get another surgery in mid-December to have it removed. This delayed his return to basketball by another three weeks.
“Basketball was non-existent for him this year, which is kind of sad,” Pam Gronewold said. “He worked so hard, and every year something hugely disappointing happened to him.”
Running for distance
Gronewold found out at an early age that he could run pretty far without getting tired.
“It all started in junior high when I finally realized that I had most of the mile time records and I realized that my lungs could hold a lot of air,” Gronewold said. “It just made sense to keep pushing that way.”
Gronewold has been a fixture for Freeman’s distance runners the past four years. He competes in the 800, 1,600, and the 3,200-meter individual races, as well as the 3,200-meter relay race for the Falcons. Last year, he qualified for the state meet in the 800-meter run. He finished in 20th place.
While the individual races are fun, Gronewold is partial to the relay.
“You’re not alone, you’re with your teammates. It’s not just a singles event,” Gronewold said. “You get to have more fun I think when you’re with your teammates and not just by yourself.”
Falcons head coach Jim McLaughlin has had Gronewold for both basketball and track the last four years. Gronewold’s work ethic has made life a little easier as a coach for McLaughlin.
“Michael’s always been someone that’s been a good runner, even as a freshman. We ask a lot of our distance kids in our workouts, and Mike’s always pushing hard and has a good attitude about it,” McLaughlin said. “He worked really hard in the summer to improve himself, and I think you see the results on the track.”
Energy Generation Operations
Gronewold will not pursue athletics in college. Instead, he will be attending SCC-Milford to study energy generation operations. The degree provides a wide range of options for Gronewold.
“You can become an operator at like a coal plant or an ethanol plant, like here in Adams. You could go up to a nuclear plant even or you can serve in the military and help them out,” Gronewold said. “I thought it was interesting and I heard a lot of people say it was good.”
Gronewold and his family visited SSC-Milford last week to officially enroll him in its energy generation operations program. His dad couldn’t be any prouder with the decision his son has made with his life.
“He looked at me and said, ‘I’m very happy and I can’t wait to start.’ He’s already looking forward to that next chapter in his life and showing his parents that’s he ready to take on more responsibility,” Mark Gronewold said. “We’re very happy with him that this is the direction he wants to go.”
It’s always been about more than athletics for Michael Gronewold. Through all the setbacks, he remained positive in everything that he did. He’ll graduate Freeman with a cumulative GPA of 3.5. He participated in FFA his senior year as well. Volunteering for events has also been an instrumental part in Gronewold’s life. The experiences of his four years at Freeman High School are what has prepared him for the next stage in life.
“I just wanted to help out with as many activities as possible, like the color run, the pancake feed, and other events that would come up,” Gronewold said. “I really enjoyed that stuff. Seeing people smile and take notice of what we’re doing really pushes me to do more things like that.”