When Orlando Stevens hit the fifth hurdle during the 300-meter hurdles at the 8-A Region meet in late April, his first reaction was to get right back up and start running again. Then, the Riverside Military Academy senior looked down at his leg and immediately knew something was wrong.
“It didn’t look right,” Stevens said. “So I stayed down.”
An ambulance was called, and Stevens was rushed to the hospital where he received his official diagnosis. He had broken his femur. His high school career was done.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening to me,” he said. “It was my worst fear, for something like that to happen to me in my last high school track meet.”
It was an injury that Eagles track and field coach Tim Cummings said “easily could have been career ending,” and for a moment, Stevens’ plans of running at the next level for Augusta University were thrown into question.
But once he discovered he would make a full recovery, Stevens’ fears were quickly put to rest when he gave a call to Adam Ward, head track and field coach in Augusta.
“Once I told him it’s going to be a 100% recovery, he said ‘We still want you over here,’” Stevens said.
It was good news for the athlete who had committed to run hurdles and compete in the long jump for the Jaguars a couple months earlier.
Stevens grew up playing basketball along with running track, but decided in the 10th grade that the latter was likely to be his sport of focus. His parents, Marvin and Mary, knew the choice he would eventually make even earlier than that.
“He really enjoyed (track),” Mary said. “He never complained about going to practice. He really liked to run. Even when he was tired, he didn’t want to quit. He never wanted to stop.”
Stevens wanted to continue running in college, and in his senior year, he ended up taking his recruitment into his own hands. At the suggestion of his dad — who has a military background and knew of Augusta University because of its proximity to Fort Gordon Army Base — Stevens sent Ward an e-mail to gauge the school’s potential interest in him.
Ward’s response was immediate and enthusiastic.
“He told me to call him immediately, and that’s it,” Stevens said. “We got to talking. I visited like the next week. It was quick. He told me they wanted me there and they needed me there. I was like, OK. I want to come here.”
Stevens committed soon after, a decision that Cummings believes was a slam dunk signing for the budding new program. Alongside Stevens’ athletic prowess, Cummings said, the Jaguars had locked up a top-class teammate.
It’s a sentiment that was reflected most prominently by Riverside Military Academy’s class of 2019 at the school’s most recent graduation.
Stevens, then still wearing crutches, was placed in the back of the line to graduate in an effort to prevent inconveniencing him and the rest of the students in attendance. When it was finally Stevens’ turn to walk, the rest of the class responded by putting their thoughts into action.
“When they called his name, the whole 120 boys all simultaneously stood up and started cheering and hollering,” Cummings said. “It was just kind of a spontaneous thing. I’d never seen that.”
Two weeks later, Stevens was off his crutches. Today, he’s already started jogging. He’s expected to be back to full strength by the start of the school year.
After bringing home two region championships, two county championships and one state championship in the last two years, Stevens now has his eyes set on a new goal: a national championship for Augusta University. It’s an achievement that, at least according to Stevens’ No. 1 fan, is firmly within reach.
“Coming from a mother, I think he can do it,” Mary Stevens said. “He has the drive.”