by BETH ALTENA
Future Eagle Scout Andrew Manning, 17, a senior at Rockford High School, thought of his former elementary school when it was time for his last Boy Scout project. The strides he’s made in his career with the organization are nothing short of amazing, as few Scouts ever make it to Eagle Scout, the organization’s greatest honor. For Manning, the real march for success has been even more personal—a series of grueling surgeries and recoveries to correct defects in his feet he suffered from his whole life.
Manning has had pain in his feet his whole life, but his family never knew the extent of the problem. He said he didn’t know if it was just natural growing pains and, having suffered from it his entire life, he didn’t realize it wasn’t normal. When he sprained his ankle in gym class and went to see a doctor about it, the extent of his problem became clear.
“I went from doctor to doctor to specialist to surgeon,” Manning said.
A problem with his bones had been the cause of his pain, and the doctors couldn’t believe he’d been walking with the condition his whole life, much less waterskiing and tubing.
The diagnosis: major, complicated surgeries involving months of rehabilitation and keeping off his feet. Then, more surgeries on the other foot with the same pain and rehabilitation afterward. He had surgery on his right foot in March 2010 and the second nearly a year later—sooner than his doctors would have liked, but the timing took advantage of time off school to miss as little as possible. Manning is philosophical about it.
“You wouldn’t ever choose to go through it,” he said. “But if you have to go through it, this was the best time of my life to do it. If I was older and found out about the problem, I wouldn’t be as young and strong to recover. If I had been younger, I would have had to have more surgeries because my bones wouldn’t have been close to their full size.”
As a student at Lakes from 1999 to 2005, Manning remembers enjoying time outdoors, watching birds at feeders and sitting at a bench nearby. He remembers sitting at a picnic table on the school grounds.
Now those items seem to have gone, perhaps worn out and not replaced. Manning has changed that.
His Eagle project is impressive. With money he raised himself and is still raising, he paid for materials to construct two 10-foot long benches, two picnic tables, and five bird feeders. The benches are made of white oak with a beautiful, natural finished look. The bases are steel. “Lakes Elementary” is stenciled on each and protected by heavy varnishing. Each bench weighs 230 pounds and will be lagged to cement bases along the wall of the school.
The cost of the project is an estimated $1,200 and has exceeded 100 working hours.
Manning said Eagle Scout projects are meant to be leadership efforts, so much of the work was done by younger Scouts of Bostwick Lake Congregational Church Troop 228 under his supervision. He still has over $500 to raise (donations can be dropped off at Lakes). When the benches, tables and birdfeeders are installed, other students will be able to enjoy the benefit of his efforts for years, and enjoy the elementary school just as he did.
As he graduates from Rockford High School next spring, Manning hopes to attend Michigan State University in premed and eventually become an orthopedic surgeon. He wants to help people just like his surgeons have helped him.
“I think it is really important from a surgeon’s perspective to know what it’s like to go through it,” he said. “It’s one thing to do it and see the results. It’s another thing to go through it and see the results.”
Manning said it hasn’t been an easy journey and he still has years before his feet and ankles will be strong enough to do things others his age take for granted. He’ll be glad to get there down the road, but is happy where he is at today.
“I definitely got better at crutches,” he said, “and I am able to walk my senior year.”