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Comeback Complete: The T.R. Williams story

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 3:24 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - The pitcher’s mound is where T.R. Williams has found a home.

“When I was younger playing like 8U and machine pitch baseball, I’d always be the pitcher like in the circle,” said Williams.

T.R. was taught how to pitch by his father Tim, when he was a young boy. Once he reached high school, he immediately became a star at Page County. As a freshman in 2018, T.R. led the Panthers to the Class 2 state title by pitching a complete game in the championship. He quickly became a player to watch at the prep level, both in Virginia and nationally.

Williams’ fastball has been clocked as fast at 93 miles per hour and he features multiple pitching deliveries that can fool hitters. Shortly after his freshman season, he committed to pitch at Virginia Tech and officially signed with the Hokies during his senior year. Pitching professionally, even right out of high school, is also a realistic option for the Shenandoah Valley native.

However, earlier this year, baseball became a secondary concern for Williams as he began an unexpected fight for his life.

“I was asking the doctors, ‘Is he going to die on me?’,” said Tim Williams. “And they said, ‘Mr. Williams, he is in bad shape.’ I said I just want him to live.”

In early February of 2021, T.R. started feeling ill and symptoms reached a breaking point on Super Bowl Sunday (February 7).

“I felt awful,” said T.R. Williams. “Like very weak. Really tired. Did not feel good at all.”

Unsure of what was wrong, T.R. was taken to UVA Health in Charlottesville. After some tests, he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome. According to The Mayo Clinic, it’s a rare disorder in which a body’s immune system attacks its nerves and it can cause paralysis.

T.R.’s case was serious.

“When I could see, I was just laying there staring at the ceiling for 12 hours,” said T.R. “I’d have doctors coming in every hour doing tests on me, seeing what I can move, how strong stuff is.”

He went more than a week unable to move any part of his body and was without use of his legs for more than three weeks.

“I didn’t know if he was going to live or die actually,” said Tim Williams. “I was praying to God, hoping that he was going to live.”

Most patients afflicted with Guillain-Barré syndrome do recover but it takes time and some may never regain the physical strength they had before the illness. According to The Mayo Clinic, 60-80% of GBS patients are able to walk at six months but T.R. was determined to not only get back on his feet, but return to the mound.

T.R.’s condition slowly improved and he left UVA Health for Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia. There he was put through some intense rehab under the guidance of occupational therapist Kelly Allen.

“T.R. is an incredible athlete so his skills were phenomenal within sessions,” said Allen. “Typically within rehab, someone will get more tired within a single session or get more tired as the week goes on. T.R. does better by the end of the session and better as the week goes on.”

At CHKD, T.R. worked hard and his body recovered enough to the point where he was able to get back on his feet and toss a baseball.

“We went outside one day and threw some baseball and I was like I am getting back,” said Williams.

After 54 days undergoing treatment in Charlottesville and Norfolk, T.R. returned home to Page County and the Shenandoah Valley in early April. He has continued his rehab locally with strenuous sessions at Drayer Physical Therapy Institute in Elkton.

“It’s unbelievable what he’s been able to accomplish,” said Chris Witter, a physical therapist who works with T.R. at Drayer. “I would say it’s an example of what you can do when your mind, body, and spirit are able to overcome the obstacle.”

Overcome the obstacle of Guillain-Barré syndrome is exactly what T.R. did.

On May 21, to the amazement of many, Williams returned to the baseball field. He appeared as hitter for Page County and laced an RBI single in his first at-bat for the Panthers in a win at East Rockingham.

Less than a week later, T.R. completed his comeback.

He took the mound, in front of a standing ovation, at his home field and pitched an inning against rival Luray on May 27. T.R. picked up a save and struck out two batters in the appearance.

“It kind of took me back,” said T.R. “From the time I was laying in the hospital bed until now, how far I have came so it really made he happy that I can get back on the field and have everyone who’s been supporting me at the hospital come to the game and watch me on the field.”

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