On an overcast Friday morning in early August, I travelled to Quincy to chat with Carter Bushman.
At the Grainery, a popular downtown coffee shop, the Quincy High School senior and I and discussed a variety of topics, including the injuries that Bushman has sustained during the last several years while playing sports (he’s an accomplished athlete in football, wrestling and track and field).
He tore the meniscus in his left knee when he was in the eighth grade, an injury that required surgery. He broke his middle finger the next year. The year after that, he dislocated a bone in his foot, which also needed surgery. Not long after that he tore a tendon in his other foot. Last spring, he suffered a hip injury.
I asked him how he’s been able to recover from all of these physical ailments.
“Just keep going,” he said. “It might hurt, but it’s worth it in the end.”
Several days after our interview, Bushman sustained a major knee injury while pole vaulting, tearing two ligaments and a meniscus. He had surgery last Wednesday, and doctors told him that he’d need nine months to rehabilitate the injury. Most likely, he won’t play any sports this year.
Bushman is a fierce competitor, and of course he’ll miss being out on the gridiron, wrestling mat and track this year, helping his teams to victory.
But he’ll be OK. He’ll recover, move on with his life and most likely succeed in whatever he chooses to do.
This is a setback for him, but it’s not close to the biggest obstacle that he’d had to overcome in his life.
Kenneth Bushman died in an automobile accident in 2002. Kenneth and his wife had 16 children (10 boys, six girls); Carter, one of the youngest, was 7 years old at the time of his father’s death.
“He was a hard worker, but he always had the balance between work and play,” Bushman said. “Everybody remembers him as the guy who taught everybody to ski. He would go water skiing on Christmas Day. He’d start on the dock, go around the lake three times, and boom, he’d end on the shore, not falling in once. And he’d be jumping waves; he was so good. I was his last child that he taught everything to, really. He taught me how to snowboard, how to ski, wakeboard. I learned a lot of stuff I love to do from him.”
Not long after Kenneth died, Carter and his siblings were sent off to live with relatives. Carter and his younger brother Spencer lived with an uncle in Everett for less than a year; Carter finished second grade there before moving back to George to live with his uncle, Wallace Bushman and aunt Jean.
On Aug. 26, 2010, tragedy struck the Bushman family once again. Wallace Bushman, then 60, the public works director for the City of George, was killed in an accidental drowning.
Wallace was a hard worker, just like his brother, but made time to spend with his children and nephews. Wallace volunteered as a Scoutmaster for Quincy Boy Scout troop 76, and Carter bonded with his uncle on scout trips.
Losing one father figure is bad enough. By the time he was a teenager, Carter Bushman had lost two of them.
I asked him if he ever said things like, ‘Why me?’ or felt sorry for himself.
‘I’ve done that a lot,” he said, “but I figure everything happens for a reason. My job is to just keep going, and show how strong I am. As a person (these experiences) have made me stronger. I know life’s not easy. For a while there, I just cried about it. But crying about it gets you nowhere. What gets you places is when you push yourself, when you go and try to achieve something.”
Bushman has definitely achieved a lot of great things during his tenure as a Quincy High athlete.
As a junior, he was named to the all-Caribou Trail League football team as a defensive end; took fourth place at the 1A state wrestling tournament at 152 pounds; and competed at the 1A state track and field meet in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.
“He can pretty much learn any physical skill known to man within a week,” Quincy football coach Stephen Wallace said. “His nickname on the football team is ‘Honey Badger’ because he just gets the job done no matter what happens. It may not be pretty and often can’t be replicated by another individual, but he always finds a way to make it work.”
Carter Bushman is, in the words of Wallace, “unique.”
“I have never met an individual as physically gifted and equally intelligent as Carter,” Wallace continued. “He is completely driven by very high athletic and academic standards that he places on himself, and he sets goals far beyond what most people would consider possible.
“But at the same time, he is a complete clown.”
How would his friends describe him? “Eccentric. Out there. Crazy — in a good way, of course,” Bushman said.
Indeed, Bushman’s interests outside of sports are somewhat eclectic, to say the least. He acquired an affection for circus performance after taking a class in the fourth grade; he can ride a unicycle, and is pretty good with juggling sticks, among other things.
One day a couple of years ago, he was bored in class (“I always have to be doing something,” he said), so he started to use a yo-yo. That hobby stuck as well. “I’m pretty good at it now,” he said, sheepishly.
He’s a risk taker by nature (“I like to push the limits a lot. It’s my greatest advantage, but it’s also my greatest weakness,” he said), but he’s got a goofy side to his personality as well. “He orders from the kid’s menu at McDonald’s because he likes the tiny fries and the toys,” Wallace said.
And then there’s his Captain America obsession. Carter Bushman’s infatuation with the Marvel Comics superhero is well known throughout Quincy High School.
“I may be really athletic and stuff, but I’m so nerdy,” he said with an air of resignation. “My room is covered with Captain America stuff. Captain America is the best superhero.
“I have no fear to show it. I’ll show up to school in my (Captain America) shirt, or my socks, or my wristbands, or other stuff. I always have something.”
“He wears Captain America suits,” Wallace said. “He’s currently looking for a date to wear a matching suit to prom.”
(Good luck with that one, Carter.)
Last summer, Bushman made a Captain America shield out of duct tape, but he’s looking for an upgrade. “Right now I’m looking for an old satellite dish so I can make a metal Captain America shield out of it,” he said. “Paint it, make it look all nice and shiny.”
So how did Bushman become obsessed with Captain America?
“My friend was having a Captain America party, and I was like, ‘I’ll make the shield.’ Then I’m like, ‘Captain America is actually really cool.’ It developed a lot more after that,” he said.
“It’s his personality, really. He’s like what I want to be. He always puts himself on the line to help other people. He always go out there and fights his hardest. And also, he’s just awesome.
“This is what I tell myself, this is what I tell my coaches during practice — ‘I want to be like Captain America. He runs fast, so I’m going to run fast. He jumps far, so I’m going to jump far.’ ”
He’ll have to wait a while before he can run and jump like Captain America again.
But Carter Bushman knows that injuries are just a part of life. He’s been through worse things, and he knows how to put sports — and a lot of other things, for that matter — into proper perspective.
“Ever since my dad died, I’ve had to keep strong, and I’ve had to keep going,” he said. “That’s what I use for (motivation) in sports and everything — just keep going. No matter how bad it hurts, no matter how tired I am, I’m going to give it (my best), no matter what.”