His younger sister was playing softball that Saturday and Cory Monnin — a popular, three-sport freshman athlete at Miami East High — had helped with her practice in the morning.
Over the noon hour, he decided to return home for lunch with his mom. His dad, Mike, stayed with Emma, who would be pitching her first game that afternoon.
“After Cory ate, he changed into another pair of shorts, one with pockets so he could carry a camera,” Kelly Monnin said. “I was going to stay home and clean and he was going to take pictures for me. He gave me a hug and took off.”
As she was reliving that scene from three years ago, Kelly grew quiet and shifted in her chair: “You know how they talk about mother’s intuition? It’s true. That was the first time I encountered it.
“When Cory took off, I don’t know why, but I had the strangest feeling. I went out to the garage and looked to make sure he had his helmet on … and he did, so I went back and started cleaning again.
“Then all of a sudden I just got a sickening feeling. I remember dropping the can of Pledge. It felt like someone had hit me in the stomach. I ran to the phone and called Mike and said, ‘Is Cory with you?’
“He told me no and I said, ‘He should be there already.’ And then I said, ‘I think I hear sirens.’ “
Kelly had run to get her shoes and that’s when both her father-in-law and a neighbor pulled their cars into the Monnin’s place on Troy-Sidney Road.
“Grandpa asked, ‘What color is Cory’s moped?’ ” Kelly said. “When I told him, he said, ‘You’ve got to come with me…now!’ ”
Just a half mile down the road, 15-year-old Cory had been turning left onto Peterson Road when a car driven by 21-year-old Cody Shope tried passing him on the left in what was a double-yellow line — no pass — zone through the intersection.
Shope hit Cory, knocking him off the bike and into a ditch. The car ended up in a field.
By the time Mike and Emma got to the accident site, Cody already had been loaded onto a CareFlight helicopter and was being rushed to Children’s Medical Center of Dayton.
He had suffered a traumatic brain injury — an enclosed head injury called a diffuse axonal injury (DAI) — and the early prognosis was not good.
“After a while at the hospital the neurologist came in and it was pretty cold-hearted,” Kelly said. “He just said, ‘There’s nothing.’ He gave us no hope. My mom screamed and ran out of the room. Mike and I just held each other up.
“But I refused to believe Cory wouldn’t make it and I prayed like never before … it’s just a parent thing … I’m nothing without my two kids and you don’t give up on them. You just don’t.”
That said, the road ahead was rough.
Cory would be comatose for three months. He’d be in the hospital — first at Dayton Children’s and mostly at Nationwide Childrens Hospital in Columbus — for five months and six days. And even now, three years later, he’s still going through extensive rehab.
He has gone from being pushed around in a wheelchair — his head frozen sideways, his motionless hands seemingly tethered beneath his chin — to maneuvering himself on a walker to moving now with a slow but mostly steady pace on a four-pronged cane.
“All the way around he has beaten the odds,” Kelly said. “Day after day, he just keeps surprising us.”
Another of those surprises came the other evening as Cory sat with his family in its garage-turned-family room — “our man cave,” Mike said of the sports-themed décor — that is highlighted by a large photo of Cory in his No. 61 Miami East football jersey this past senior season.
Miami East’s graduation ceremony is tonight at Hobart Arena and Cory plans to go up and get his diploma.
“I’m walking without a cane,” he announced.
“You are?” Kelly said, a bit taken aback.
As Cory shook his head, Mike added soft affirmation: “If you want to do that, that’s fine.”
“You and Bear walking arm-in-arm?” Kelly asked in reference to Cory’s best friend, the 325-pound Bryant “Bear” Miller.
“Well, if Bear has a baseball game and isn’t there, I may walk up with Anna Snyder,” Cory said. “Either way, I’m not using a cane. That’s been my goal a long time.”
Back in the early stages of his recovery, Cory’s Crew t-shirts had been made up. On the back they proclaimed the football team’s slogan that had been commandeered for his own fight: “No Toughness, No Championship.”
So is tonight’s graduation walk his championship?
Cory grinned: “It’s kind of like my Super Bowl.”
‘I’m coming back’
A diffuse axonal injury is devastating to the brain. According to a report authored by Dr. Jeffrey R. Wasserman of Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton, Fla., DAI is one of the major causes of a “persistent vegetative state” and 90 percent of patients with severe DAI “never regain consciousness.”
After nearly a month at Children’s, Cory still was not responding. Kelly said while her son’s care was excellent there, the family wasn’t given much hope:
“All we heard was we can’t give you false hope,” she said. “There was talk about us taking Cory home or putting him in a nursing home. But we refused to believe he wasn’t going to come back to us. He was just trapped in his body and we had to find a pathway for him.
“And then a wonderful doctor appeared. He was our knight in shining armor.”
Dr. Aniket Joshi of Children’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit said he had been reviewing Cory’s record and wanted to try something.
“He said, ‘You know he was breathing when he came in, so I want to take him off the ventilator and see what he does,’ ” Kelly remembered.
Although others thought there was little chance Cory could survive off a ventilator, Kelly said she “prayed and prayed” and it happened.
Cory breathed on his own.
Soon after, a representative of Nationwide, which specializes in traumatic brain injuries, came to evaluate Cory for admittance.
“He was doing what they call storming — his temperature spiked through the roof, he was agitated — and that can happen when you’re becoming aware of your surroundings,” Kelly said. “He was trembling, but he wouldn’t respond to her so she asked me to try. I said ‘Cory’ … and all of a sudden he looked over at me. And that’s when she accepted us.”
In Columbus, the family was constantly at Cory’s bedside and eventually he began to respond to his mom by blinking his eyes.
“He had a (gastrostomy) G-tube in and I did some things I wasn’t supposed to,” Kelly smiled. “I got some of those red gummy fish and some apple green licorice and rubbed the inside of his mouth and he started salivating. One day he chomped down on the (candy) and I told them, ‘I know he can eat. All Monnins love to eat.’ ”
Eventually the tube was removed and Cory slowly began to awaken. An uncle playfully kicked him in the leg one day and he kicked back. When a girl across the hall could not cross her legs at a therapy session, he suddenly did.
The big breakthrough came when his sister was feeding him chocolate ice cream. All of a sudden he spoke his first word:
“That’s the first day I knew I was there,” Cory said. “That’s the day I realized I’m coming back.”
From the time of the accident into the fall, Cory’s pals — including many Miami East teachers and coaches, especially football coach Max Current — and the community did all they could for the Monnin family.
A benefit was held at a local bar. Another friend sponsored a spaghetti dinner. When Miami East went to play at rival Covington, the Buccaneers’ field was decorated with a big No. 61 painted on it.
By the time Miami East’s homecoming rolled around, Mike and Kelly got their boy out of Nationwide on an overnight pass and took him to the dance. “We sat in the hallway as he went in in his wheelchair,” Kelly said. “He had to have a shot while he was there, so he came out in the hallway, I gave it to him and he went back in.”
Just four days after Cory finally was released from the hospital, in October 2010, he showed up for classes at Miami East in his wheelchair. He had an aide with him and they had to prop pillows next to him so his still-unruly body didn’t flop out of the chair.
After a while, he found himself riding a roller-coaster as much as a wheelchair.
“The toughest part was my emotions,” he said. “In the winter of my sophomore year nothing was going right. I was on so many meds and I was so depressed … just so friggin’ depressed … I really didn’t even want to be here.”
And what finally lifted him?
“Spring came,” he said softly. “There was baseball — I love baseball — and things just seemed to get better.”
A chance meeting
Last summer Cory was at a fitness gym in Troy when he said another guy walked up and started talking to him: “He said, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ My trainer asked his name and he said he was Cody.
“I didn’t know him, so I was like: ‘What kind of music do you like?’ He told me rock music.
“A couple of minutes later I said, ‘So what sports you like?’ He told me football and I said, ‘Well, I played football, baseball and wrestling before I had my accident.’ And he was like, ‘Dude you’re gonna make me cry right now.’
“I was like, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘I’m Cody.’ It took me a few seconds and he said it again: ‘Cory, it’s me. I’m Cody.’ That’s when I remembered.”
It was Cody Shope, the guy who had hit him.
“He was crying and he asked for forgiveness,” Cory said. “I told him — and pardon my French — I said, ‘Cody, know what? S—- happens!’
“He started laughing and I said, ‘Look, I forgave you a long time ago. That’s how I’m surviving. If I didn’t forgive you, I never could have moved on.”
As Kelly listened to her son recount his one and only meeting with Shope, she said quietly: “My only explanation is that God had to have set that up. It helped Cory move forward and it set an example for the rest of us. If Cory is able to forgive, we should be able to, too. Cory has taught us a lot.”
His family mentioned his perseverance, his work ethic and his positive attitude.
Besides going to school and working out at home, he does swimming therapy two days a week, works with a personal trainer at Total Fitness in Piqua, has speech therapy every Friday afternoon and rides horses in a rehab program on Saturday mornings.
To stay on track educationally he went to summer school the past two years. This past football season he was on the Vikings sidelines every game wearing his No. 61 jersey and leaning on his cane.
At a recent senior awards ceremony, the Ohio High School Athletic Association gave him its Courageous Student Award.
Now comes tonight’s graduation and then a party at the Monnin home on Saturday. After that an accounting firm in Troy has offered him a summer job and there will be a summer vacation in Florida — the family’s first since before the accident — and this fall Cory plans on attending college, likely Edison State, to study accounting.
“Through a lot of this we kept hearing about false hope,” Kelly said. “But we don’t believe in that and now everyone should see it.
“There’s no such thing as false hope. There is only hope.
“Cory is proof.”