Second Shot

Ben Rubeor gained valuable perspective about life after a car accident nearly ended his lacrosse career

April 20, 2006

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — Charlottesville, Va.-- --The scar cuts a wide, grisly swath, covering most of his left forearm, and it marks an indelible reminder Ben Rubeor never tires of contemplating.

Having recently turned 20, Rubeor is a kid no longer. He hasn't been, really, since that night in the summer of 2003, when, at 17, he drove too fast with his whole life in front of him and could have lost it all.

Every day for Rubeor at the University of Virginia is a great day, whether he is buried in the works of Shakespeare, savoring the scenery on a hiking trail in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, or ripping another well-placed shot for the nation's best men's lacrosse team.

After an automobile accident near his Towson home tore apart his left arm, and after a nerve-racking, eight-month recovery - which included four surgeries and a frightening setback - forced him to confront his place in the world without lacrosse, Rubeor owns an abundance of perspective.

"It was kind of like losing my childhood innocence, but at the same time learning so much about myself. I was trying to cope with the fact that I might not be able to play lacrosse," Rubeor said.

"I realized that every day I play lacrosse is a gift. It also made me realize if I can't play, it's not the biggest deal in the world. It reminds you of what's important. It gave me a new sense of, wow, I'm so lucky to be playing this game."

On the country's top-ranked and only unbeaten team, a squad loaded with scoring threats, the skinny, long-haired sophomore who first emerged as a star at Loyola Blakefield might be Virginia's most versatile weapon. The attackman can beat defenders off the dodge, find an open teammate with a crisp pass, go to the goal with authority, shoot hard and accurately from inside or outside, and beat you with his right hand, too.

His coach and his teammates talk of an uncommonly smooth and instinctive player who has a way of being in the right place and making the right decision. Despite missing two early-season games with an ankle injury, Rubeor ranks second among the Cavaliers with 34 points and is tied for second in goals (21) and assists (13). He is shooting a sizzling 40.4 percent.

"I feel like I can put my hands up [in celebration] before he even shoots the ball sometimes," Virginia senior midfielder Kyle Dixon said. "He's not the biggest guy. He's not the quickest guy. He's just a quiet guy who goes about his business. His lacrosse skills are unbelievable."

Said Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia: "Whatever the game requires, Ben can do. He sees the game at a high level. He just gives us whatever we need."

Such chatter usually makes Rubeor squirm with discomfort, credit the work of his fellow players, and change the subject.

Crash and recovery

You see, Rubeor goes deeper than the game he has come to master, having pursued it with a passion since the third grade. For Rubeor, who never was the typical jock, life took on a new meaning after that night of July 15, when he was driving with a friend in his parents' SUV, then lost control on a stretch of Joppa Road after veering sharply to avoid hitting an oak tree.

The Ford Explorer tipped on its left side, rolled over several times and was demolished. Rubeor and his passenger, Alex Wharton, were wearing their seat belts. Wharton, then a student at Gilman and currently an attackman at Notre Dame, walked away unscathed. Rubeor did not.

His left arm had been resting on the door, exposed through the open window. The wreck left Rubeor's limb a mangled mess - his only injury - with bones sticking through his skin. In about an hour, he had been flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where doctors cleaned the gaping wound, pulled the bones into place and screwed on four plates to start the healing.

Thus began an eight-month process, wrought with a major scare. Two months into what seemed like a good recovery, a bacterial infection arose within the bones, threatening the arm to the point where Rubeor was told he might not play again. Later, the thought of possible amputation even came up.

Rubeor was treated with an aggressive course of antibiotics. Then, six weeks after Dr. Andrew Egleseder, an upper extremity specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, performed the last of three follow-up procedures in December, the Rubeor family was floored by the news. The arm had healed beautifully. Ben, who committed to Virginia a month before the accident, could begin practicing with his Loyola high school team on schedule. He would have a senior season.

"Once you hear there's no head injury, that's the big sigh. Then you hear his arm is pretty bad, and your mind drifts to other concerns," said Bob Rubeor, Ben's father, an estate planner who was Starsia's college teammate at Brown in the mid-1970s. "It was a roller coaster of emotions, of not knowing and wondering. Then comes this incredible surprise that he could play."

`No self-pity'

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