A story of lacrosse, loss and rediscovery

Photo courtesy of David Streeten

Lacrosse was David Streeten’s life until a cliff diving accident nearly killed him and crushed his dream to be collegiate star. Now, seven years later, he is rediscovering his dream in a different form – as Queens Men’s Lacrosse team’s new part-time assistant.

Streeten started playing lacrosse in the first grade. By the time he reached college, he had a trophy case of high school accolades and was recruited by large, Division I schools including the University of Massachusetts, Colgate University, Drexel University and Rutgers University. He chose Division I Binghamton University, a State University of New York, and quickly became the starting face-off man, the player who faces a player from the opposing team in a battle for possession of the ball at the start of every game and after each goal is scored.

The possibilities for Streeten seemed endless, until the afternoon of July 23, 2004, when he would make a decision that would change his life.

“That was the day I decided to go cliff diving,” Streeten recalls. “There were nine of us and everybody I was with had done it before, but that summer my mom said I wasn’t allowed to go. But I decided that now I was a freshman in college and I could do what I want.”

The last thing Streeten remembers that day is looking down and swinging his arms, getting ready to plummet 50 feet into the gorge below him. The rest, which his friends described to him after the accident, is completely nonexistent in his memory.
“There was a ledge that stuck out. I went to jump and swung my arms for momentum but lost balance,” says Streeten.
The people who witnessed his fall believe that hitting his head on the ledge was actually what saved his life because it propelled him out toward the water, instead of falling straight down.
Still, Streeten’s head trauma was immense. His skull was cracked open and piece of skull chipped off.
“My best friend was the only one who jumped in after me. Everyone else made their way down into the gorge. He said the water was a dark cloud of red and the only reason he could figure out where I was, was because I was wearing bright yellow board shorts.”
Streeten’s friends kept him conscious while waiting for the EMT to arrive, which took a long time because there was no cell phone service for miles. A helicopter was called and Streeten was airlifted to a hospital in Elmira, N.Y., where he was immediately rushed into surgery after stabilization.
After being in a medically induced coma for a week and a half and the intensive care unit for more than two weeks, Streeten began to write and breathe through tubes that prevented him from speaking. He was brought to a traumatic brain specialized injury unit, where he went through physical, speech and cognitive therapy for a month and a half before returning home to Corning, N.Y., where he would continue therapy.
One of Streeten’s most memorable times during his recovery was when one of his physical therapists who previously played lacrosse let him take a faceoff.

“It was a momentous turning point,” recalls Streeten. “I didn’t really think about how I wouldn’t be able to play lacrosse collegiately. I kept telling myself I wanted to keep doing this. I wanted to play again.”

Despite the progress he was making, Streeten faced daily setbacks that reminded him how long of a road he had to reaching his goals.

“I went from being in my top shape to learning how to walk and tie my shoes and shower again. I had to re-learn how to do everything and anything I did on a daily basis.”

After about 10 months of therapy and a year off from school, Streeten returned to Binghamton as the men’s lacrosse team’s manager and unofficial student coach. On June 23, 2005, he had reconstructive surgery where doctors put a Kevlar plate onto his skull because his brain still wasn’t fully covered. Streeten no longer had to wear the white helmet that all his lacrosse friends decorated with stickers.

“Needless to say, when you’re a 19-year-old guy wearing a helmet, it toughens you up.”
When the summer of 2006 came, he got his first opportunity to return to the field at his high school alumni game.

“It was a huge deal to me,” says Streeten.

Streeten regained his confidence and discovered he could try out for Binghamton’s lacrosse team and potentially earn back his spot as the starting faceoff man, as long as he was head-trauma free. But Streeten had reservations because of the risk.

“How do you tell someone from the opposing team they can’t body check you or hit your head because you could die?”

Streeten realized there was more in his future than facing off at Binghamton, but he continued playing in summer leagues that involved no body checking (body to body contact) and his high school alumni game every summer.
After graduating from Binghamton with a concentrated English degree in creative writing, Streeten started his search for coaching jobs, which was difficult with such limited collegiate coaching experience. In the meantime, he interned and wrote for InsideLacrosse Magazine and did some freelance work for Lacrosse Magazine, as well as working as a substitute teacher back home.
Finally, after working as a sports trainer in Chicago for six months, Streeten applied for a graduate assistant position at Queens. Streeten and men’s lacrosse head coach Jim Fritz go back five or six years. Streeten also knows and has coached players on the team since they were in second grade, which only adds to the excitement of his new job.
“I love being able to coach, Streeten says. “I’ve grown up around the game; it’s ingrained in my DNA. I can’t wait to work with the student athletes and staff and help this team exceed past level of success and reach new heights.”

The Queens Lacrosse coaching staff can’t wait for what Streeten brings to the team.

“Whenever we hire someone we talk to their references, and all his references said he’d be a really good, young, up-and-coming coach. He has a great knowledge of the game and a general enthusiasm and attitude I think the guys will pick up on. We want people who are going to want to coach, and he definitely wants to coach,” says Fritz.

Streeten still has some problems with dexterity and fine motor skills, having only 30 to 40 percent of sensation back in his left arm and hand, and a reduced vision field, leaving him blind in the lower left quadrant. That frustrates him on a daily basis, he admits, but it’s a constant reminder of what he’s overcome as an athlete and person.

Fritz sees the positive, stating that “anytime you go through something like he has and face that kind of adversity, you’re going to become better, whether as a coach or a person.”

“I definitely think it’s shaped my coaching and the way I do things,” says Streeten. “The combination of everything I’ve gone through has molded me to become the coach I am today.”

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.