Turning Point: Middleton finds confidence, passion in coaching kids
Published 7:46 am Sunday, October 10, 2021
NATCHEZ — In the months following the welding accident that took eight fingers from Wells Middleton, he battled depression and a lack of confidence, his dad Fred Middleton said. From his perspective as a parent, it was clear when Wells finally reached a turning point.
The day was July 31, 2021, when friends, family and members of the community came out to Natchez City Auditorium in support of Wells.
“I think that was his new beginning,” Fred said. “People got to visit with him who they had not seen since the accident. He got to see people he had not seen since the injury. It was a huge turning point for him to be out and around people.”
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Wells has been equipped with prosthetics. One set uses the muscles in his shoulders to operate and the myoelectric prosthetic uses sensors to enable prosthetic hands to work. He received the myoelectric in September and has had them for a month.
Fred said when his son got the prosthetics described them as having his own hands again. He added his son wore gloves when he played football at Trinity Episcopal Day School and the prosthetic reminded him of wearing those gloves.
He put the prosthetics on for the first time in Houston.
“I walked up and down the hallways with tears in my eyes,” Wells said. “I felt like they were my hands again. It tricks my brain and I’m so confident. It makes me so happy. I have never been happier in my life. It is because of the prosthetics, my family, my friends and this community that I’m so happy.”
Myoelectric prosthetics have a learning curve, he said. When holding a drink if his muscles twitch then the hands open and let the drink fall. He said he has learned to avoid this by turning off the prosthetics so they don’t drop a drink.
He is steadily learning how to do things again but it is taking some time.
“The best way to explain my life right now is I’m playing a trivia game,” Wells said. “I have to step back and take about five minutes to figure out what I’m going to do. I can’t wait for the day where I can play checkers instead of trivia.”
Recently, Wells and his father eating at a barbecue restaurant in Houston. With a big piece of meat in one hand he went to put it in his mouth when it fell onto his shirt and the sauce went everywhere, he said.
At the moment, he said he wanted to run and hide. Instead, he decided if he laughed at himself it would look better to other people. He said he is taking a stand and staying positive.
When Wells first got prosthetics, his confidence was low. His 4-year-old son Conrad was playing wee ball, Concordia’s version of t-ball, and he would sit in the car to stay away from people.
Fred had Wells in soccer, baseball and basketball when his son was 4, and he knew his son was missing out on the chance to share that delight by coaching Conrad.
Now, with Conrad playing for Miss-Lou Soccer Club, Wells is stepping up as a coach. At first, he said he was nervous about what his son and the kids on the team would think about his prosthetics.
“Within the first 10 seconds, the kids thought I was awesome,” Wells said. “They asked me to pick up cars in the parking lot with my robot hands. I told them I had a strict contract with the city of Natchez to do that at night. If they are scared, I tell them my robot hands will beat anything up.”
Wells said he had no intentions of coaching, then it dawned on him that the kids on the field may be battling things at home like child abuse or neglect. Participating in youth sports as a coach could help those kids and the youth, and it could encourage other adults to invest in youth sports, he said.
And he wants to encourage the parents to let their children talk to him and ask questions. With a four-year-old son, “I have heard everything,” he said.
“I was at practice one day helping out and the director came up to me and asked me if we had a coach,” Wells said. “I looked around and there weren’t many parents around so I kind of got roped into it. It worked out. It was God’s plan because it has done so much for me. I can’t thank the soccer club enough.”
Wells has some experience with soccer. He said he played as a kid until the fourth grade and then his senior year of high school. It was a lot of fun, he said, but it was not a sport he knew much about.
Now, he and his son are able to learn together and bond over soccer – one spot in which players cannot use their hands.
“I can’t get a handball foul,” Wells joked. “Maybe I should start playing some more. Maybe a semi-pro team could use me.”
Fred has seen the change soccer has given his son.
“When soccer came around, he was on the field and being a part of their sporting activities, his confidence has grown,” Fred said. “They are helping him as much as he is helping them. Sports run through his veins. It’s what he lived for as a young man. It is good to see him out and participating.”
The participation lets Wells know that he will be OK, which is a comforting thought after the past year. Wells said he doesn’t know what will happen in 10 years but he knows he will be okay. He credits several people with being instrumental in his life.
Mathew Freeman has coached his son in baseball. John Cowan had someone build a hunting rifle so Wells could take his son hunting. Steven Ridley got him back on the sidelines for high school football this year. Fred said they seldom missed a game where David King was coaching.
King taught him life lessons as a head coach and toughened him up, which saved his life, Wells said. His wife Lacey has worked hard to take care of him and his sons. Suzi Phelps is his therapist in Houston and she has transformed how he thinks about things. Fred said he can see a difference in his son.
“From where he was to where he is today, it is amazing to see,” Fred said. “His whole attitude has changed. This whole journey has been a very difficult and challenging time for him, but he is positive.”