ELKO — His face shone with fierce determination.
As his arms strained against the weight, he angrily shouted out a countdown of reps.
The numbers varied as he counted either backwards and forwards, the numerals punching through the air as he stretched his physical limitations.
The voice skipped numbers and 45, in particular, would slip in every once in awhile.
Standing over him the whole time was his father, beaming with pride as his son struggled with the machine and his body.
“He just loves lifting weights and you’ll see how hard he works,” Todd Shouse said. “That was his personality even before. He was a very determined kid even before.”
Of course, for Zeth Shouse, before has big connotations.
More than a year ago, Zeth was a typical Elko high schooler. He played football and had big dreams.
His dream was to attend MIT. In the fourth grade he wrote the school a letter, explaining his desire, and visited the campus a couple times since then.
In school his father described him as “way above average” and his drive carried over to everything.
On the football field he never walked. He ran. For every timeout, he would be the first off the field after running to the sidelines.
On Sept. 16, during a timeout in a football game in Fallon, Zeth was once again the first to the sidelines.
Only this time he told the coach “he couldn’t feel his legs.”
It was then that Zeth collapsed due to a blood clot in his brain rupturing, sending him into a coma that lasted nearly four months.
That was before.
On Jan. 5 2012, Zeth was born again.
“January 5 — my wife has that as his second birthday. That’s when he said his first word and woke up and spoke to her. So we celebrate that like it was a birthday,” Todd said.
That day began a road of recovery, mentally and physically, that carried him back to Elko in April and continues to this day.
For his family it’s always been about moving forward.
“If you ask him right now ‘what can I do for you?’ it’s always the same answer. ‘Keep me alive and send me to MIT.’ And, he says that every time,” Todd said.
You know how much I love you?
As his father wheels Zeth into the office of Registered Physical Therapists in Elko, the woman at the front desk immediately breaks out into Spanish.
Zeth doesn’t miss a beat as he flawlessly returns pleasantries in what is a secondary language for him.
His father said Zeth loved learning languages in school. He studied Spanish and German.
The woman at the front eventually has to switch back to English after the Spanish gets too in-depth and Zeth signs in for his therapy.
It’s been almost a year since Zeth returned to Elko after he collapsed on the sideline and slipped into the subsequent coma. He’s already different than when he first arrived.
His eyes are brighter and more focused. He’s regained all of the weight he lost — nearly 50 pounds — and he’s walking.
“When we started out he didn’t have any movement whatsoever in that right leg and we’ve gone to good active motion to walking with the right leg — moving really well again,” said Registered Physical Therapist Clinic Director Jeff Eckert. “He continues to make fantastic progress.”
Zeth has been coming to RPT ever since he returned to Elko and walking on the parallel bars was something that was impossible not too long ago.
Immediately after waking up from the coma, when he was in California, Todd remembers Zeth needing six or seven people to even hold him up to the bars.
Now in March, Zeth warms up by pumping a pedal bike and then goes right into standing up during his Tuesday session at RPT.
“Nose over toes,” Eckert said as Zeth counts down from three and straining, he slowly lifts himself up from the chair and lets out a deep groan.
Later he walks. Holding on to the parallel bars, he goes back and forth several times, while Eckert holds on to him for support, especially if he falls asleep from the exertion.
Eventually he walks around the room, following his father who tells him stories of his old classmates.
After it’s all said and done, Zeth asks his father one of his favorite questions “Do you know how much I love you?”
He replies with his own answer, “Like a fat kid loves chocolate cake times infinity.”
Mondays and Wednesdays, Zeth attends math class.
He started with simple arithmetic and two months later is studying Algebra I, and is now on the cusp of Algebra II.
As he goes over binomials and factoring with his teacher Mike Mott, Zeth, after thinking hard, lifts his head up and lets out a pronounced and thoughtful, “Oh yeah.”
“When he says that, it really means he did figure it out,” Todd said. “I don’t think someone could learn this in two months. ... It’s recovering (old information).”
Numbers are important for Zeth.
He enjoys math, and his instructor reminds him that he’ll need a lot of it to build robots at MIT.
The number, 45, is especially important for Zeth.
When he is either at therapy or in math class, when he gets “overloaded” he falls asleep.
Usually when he takes the quick naps, counting down or up to the number 45 will snap him awake.
It was his football number and when he was in a coma and later recovering in California, the number became synonymous with him, a banner for a community that rallied around him.
With fundraisers, raffles, giveaways and donations the Elko community stood behind Zeth while he was away and recovering far from home.
They still do.
“They always want to know how he’s doing and we call it ‘Superman updates.’ They love it when we update. It’s the support we get from that and going to the basketball games and everybody comes up and sees him,” Todd said. “When you’re not in the situation you don’t think it’s a big deal, but just to have someone come up to him and say ‘hi’ to him and stuff. It’s a huge deal.”
At math class, Zeth holds on for as long as he can, but soon falls asleep.
Mott said he’ll fall asleep when they push him to a new mental place and then he has to process it.
They’ve reached many new places in the last two months.
“The progress in my mind is remarkable,” Mott said. “They say he can recover old stuff, but can’t learn new stuff. Well, I disagree with that violently. Because, I’ve seen it.”
That’s just Zeth
At physical therapy, right before he heads to the workout station, Todd leans in and quietly, but proudly talks about his son, how much he loves lifting weights and how hard he works at it.
Zeth rarely falls asleep as he pulls on the weights.
He fiercely counts the reps and when Todd jokingly says “I think you need more weight” he indignantly replies “shyeahh.”
“I think 10 more pounds,” Todd says.
“Shyeahh,” Zeth quickly answers.
“That’s always how he answers,” Todd said. “(He was a) very motivated and determined kid, even before the accident. It’s very obvious now in the recovery — that determination and willpower has always been there. You never (hear) ‘I don’t want to do that.’ It’s never happened. He’s always game for whatever happens.”
Because of his work ethic, Eckert said he’s made “great gains,” most notably the walking. Zeth can now move using parallel bars, a walker or crutches.
“He’s been doing great with that,” Eckert said.
Driving past his physical limitations started before his medical crisis, according to his father.
“He was a good football player, but was he athletic? No,” Todd said with Zeth chiming in with “heck no” in the background.
“In track was he the biggest kid? He did shot put and discus (but) heck no,” Todd continued.
“Heck no, I wasn’t,” Zeth again chimed in.
“He just had that drive,” Todd finished.
A year after returning home, Todd relies on the little things.
After the injury, no one told him and his wife what they should expect, that they should temper any expectations, but the parents decided they weren’t going to sit with that.
Todd said his wife was adamant and now they can see the results.
“There’s something every day. There’s something little that he hasn’t done before,” he said. “You have to keep track of those things, so you don’t get depressed and can keep a good attitude for him.”
After Zeth collapsed on the sideline and went into a coma, his father said everything was simply minute to minute.
Eventually all those minutes added up and he woke up for his second birthday and now those minutes are continuing in his recovery.
It can be a difficult road back, but there are moments when Todd is encouraged.
Todd said his wife recently read a book about a neurologist, which had a similar situation happen to her. It took her nine years to come all the way back.
“There is hope,” he said. “I’m Zeth’s father, Superman’s dad.”