Single-leg amputee Trenten Merrill sprints through adversity with a smile

SB vs. FCC 4 (Austin Messick)

Austin Messick

After hearing his right foot would be amputated, Saddleback College track and field athlete Trenten Merrill immediately burst into tears. It seemed his dreams of one day becoming a professional athlete were slipping away as his doctor broke to him the painful news.

“I instantly cried because I thought all my dreams were gone,” Merrill said. “I decided I can’t go through life sitting in this hospital bed, I have to take it as it is.”

This January he joined the Saddleback College track and field team where he has competed in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 800-meter run, 4×400 meter relay, long jump and javelin, and he is doing it all on one leg.

He endured five surgeries to repair his foot after he was hit by a car in 2005, but after the surgeries his doctor told him that transmission fluid had spilled into his open wound during the accident, and blood was no longer circulating in his foot.

Merrill and his best friend Scott Agostini were planning to make some repairs on Merrill’s KX 110cc dirt bike on March 30, 2005, so they could ride on a track they built in front of Agostini’s house. After realizing they had forgotten a vital tool needed in their repairs, they decided to ride back to Agostini’s house and take turns riding his motorcycle.

The duo rode tandem on Agostini’s dirt bike north up a bike path running parallel to the southbound lane on San Juan Creek Road in San Juan Capistrano, Agostini in front and Merrill in back. When they reached Agostini’s street, Paseo Christina, Merrill said they looked both ways several times and saw a Toyota Tunda heading south, but decided there was enough room between them for the duo to cross the street safely.

He said that at that time Paseo Christina was the only street on San Juan Creek Road that did not have a stop sign in front of it, and the bushes planted on the center median had grown too high so they could not see the northbound lane. Neither they nor the oncoming BMW saw the other coming as Merrill and Agostini entered the interesection, and immediately after they passed the center median they were T-boned by the BMW.

“We start proceeding across the lane, and right as we got into the [northbound] lane it was just like BOOM—instant hit,” Merrill said. “The car couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see her, and it was one of those things it was like meant to be.”

Merrill said he was pinned by his right foot between the dirt bike and the BMW, and Agostini rolled over the car.

“They were saying my foot got stuck for a little bit and that I got dragged into the dirt and got flung off, but I mean no one really knows because I blacked out right away and then woke up on the side of the road,” Merrill said. “It was a pretty crazy experience. I remember waking up thinking it was a dream, and at first feeling no pain whatsoever. It was a freak accident for sure.”

Though he had been through a traumatic experience, Merrill did not allow negativity to weaken his resolve.

“In the hospital I was as happy as can be, feeling the love from my friends and family and the presence of the lord who has the biggest influence in my life,” he said.

About three to four months after the amputation, he received his first prosthetic foot and began physical therapy. He said he began jogging and doing as much as he possibly could to see what he could and couldn’t do.

After regaining his strength, he began to consider participating in competitive athletics again.

“Before I knew it I was doing a lot more things than I could do before,” Merrill said. “I ended up surfing better than I could before, I’m running faster now than I could before.”

Despite having a prosthetic leg, while at Capistrano Valley High School he competed in volleyball, wrestling and even returned to motocross and earned a sponsorship from Rekluse Motor Sports.

“I was amazed at how much [the accident] didn’t affect him,” said Agostini. “Ever since then he’s been growing and growing.”

In April 2010, Merrill was inspired to begin training in track and field after traveling to the paralympic training facility in Chula Vista to see what paralympic athletics was all about.

He said his dream has always been to become a professional athlete and this was his chance. Merrill had only a month and a half to train with sprint coach Gary Cablayan before the paralympic tryouts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and said they did all they could to get him as fast as possible by tryouts.

After an array of complications at the paralympic tryouts, Merrill did not end up qualifying but said “everything happens for a reason, I gotta stay positive, I’m going to come out here next year and just keep putting in work.”

“He doesn’t know anything else than to keep trying and keep going out and doing his best,” said Cablayan.

To keep his dream alive, Merrill joined the Saddleback track and field team.

He said that competing on the team is an inspiration, and that he is also inspired by the effort and attitude of his teammates.

“My teammates inspire me so much because they’ve been competing for a longer time, but they’re always out there cheering me on no matter what place I’m in, how good I’m doing,” Merrill said. “They’re always out there just giving me inspiration to just do better and to do all that I can.”

His best friend Agostini is now racing as a professional class motocross and supercross rider, which Merrill says has been his dream his whole life. Merrill said the accident changed both their outlooks on life, and has helped them to live with a more positive perspective.

“Both of us have realized that this happened for a reason,” he said. “There is a reason why we got hit that day, there is a reason why we are still competing right now, and it’s all through the Lord, it’s all through His works.”

Merrill said he tries to give every ounce of effort possible through the grueling workouts each week on the track. For Merrill, faith, positivity and perseverance are what have helped him remain strong through a life changing amputation and his inspirational return to competitive athletics.

“I just try to push my limits and kind of set a good example by giving all the glory to God, and not giving up no matter what the situation is,” he said with a smile.