- Sponsorship -

From Grief and Recovery to Graduation

The world as Sparta senior Miguel Vazquez knew it changed on December 5, 2018.

That morning started like so many others, when his girlfriend, a fellow senior, Tabitha Bouzis picked him up for school. Their vehicle slipped on the icy road and veered into an oncoming car.

Tabitha didn’t survive and Miguel started what doctors told his family would be a lengthy recovery. “They first thought that I would be in the hospital for months, but I was out in about a week,” he said. “Then they sent me to Mary Free Bed and said I would be there at least two months, but I worked hard to meet all my goals and was out in under two weeks.”

Miguel buried himself in his recovery, using challenging physical workouts to help heal his body and his spirit. He said that he took everything the physical therapists told him seriously. “I just decided to do what needed to be done,” he said.

After the hospital, he continued his recovery at home. An older sister moved back to help his mother care for him. He returned to high school only five weeks after the accident, determined to catch up and graduate with his class.

Miguel Vazquez works on a mechatronics project while instructor Travis Raspotnik looks on

Relentlessly Positive

After a visit to the hospital English teacher Doug Kleyn made the determination that Miguel “would be away from school for months, but he came back quickly and ready to work.”

“He was relentlessly positive and ambitious. He set small goals and continually met them,” said Kleyn. “He did not want to be given any short cuts, he never asked to be excused from any of the work. He never used his injuries as a reason to avoid assignments.”

In January Miguel used a wheelchair and depended on his friends to carry his bag from class to class. But he had set his mind on catching up and graduating with his class. With some online support and lots of hard work, he managed to get through first semester exams.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for Miguel was missing out on an anticipated internship.  Enrolled in the Mechatronics Program at Kent Career Tech Center, he had planned to work part time for a metal working company during second semester.

Miguel explained he was planning to work at Spec Tool just down the street from the high school, and hopes he could do that this summer instead. Mechatronics Instructor Travis Raspotnik is working to make that happen. “At this point we are talking about a summer job for him,” he said. “It is awesome.”

Classes in the Mechatronics Program are a mix of lecture, online content and hands-on activity, said Respotnik.  Fellow classmate Jared Rathborn videotaped every lecture to make sure his friend Miguel was kept up to speed.

“It was great he had such support from his classmates,” said Raspotnik, “but when he was here, he worked hard to catch up. He has done a remarkable job.”

Classroom projects, like the one Miguel is currently working on are sometimes “actual projects for a vendor from the real world,” according to Raspotnik. “This one has been really heavy on the technical side, and he is really good at building and design.”

Senior Miguel Vazquez gains strength from his physical fitness routines, while Sparta senior Terry DeLano spots him

Keep Fighting

His injuries, which included a broken back with several broken and cracked vertebrae, a broken femur and a dislocated hip, kept Miguel from competing on the Sparta sports teams he loved.

Football season was over before the accident, but as an accomplished wrestler, he was looking forward to his senior season. “I was disappointed to miss the incredible Sparta 2019 season,”  he said.

The day of the accident he was set to serve as team captain for the first wrestling match of the year, said varsity wrestling coach Mike Gohn.

Miguel’s coach was by his side at the hospital when Miguel was at Tabitha’s bed asking her to “keep fighting.”

Those words became a theme sported on team shirts. As soon as he was able, Miguel attended wrestling matches to cheer on teammates. “What was most impressive to me is that he called each of them by name and was always on the sidelines, calling to them to ‘keep fighting,’” said Gohn.

Gohn, like Kleyn recognized the spirit that came from deep inside Miguel. “I wasn’t surprised that he finished with his class,” said Gohn. “It was clear to me that the desire to keep fighting was deep within him. It has been amazing to watch him progress.”

The loss of Miguel on the team was deeply felt. “Not only did we lose the six points in his weight class at every single meet, the team missed out on a great leader,” said the coach. “Leaders like him make such a difference with the younger kids.”

One highlight in Miguel’s journey is that he has recovered enough to travel with his rugby teammates this spring. “I go along to every game – only as emotional support – but I am thrilled I am able to be there with them,” he said. “I am disappointed that I can’t play. I had never even heard of rugby before my freshman year, but I think I worked up to being pretty good at it.”

Jared Rathburn (left) videotaped all lectures that Miguel missed so he could keep up with the classes while in recovery and unable to attend school

What’s Next

Miguel continues to rely on physical training to heal both his body and spirit. “The doctors say that I can do whatever – just to make sure that I quit if there is pain,” he said. He works out hard and there isn’t much he cannot do or at least work up to doing. “I work out every day, and increase the weight I add to my legs nearly every day,” he said.

Kleyn said thatMiguel never uses his tragedy to procure special treatment. He has a fierce sense of ambition and is realistic and positive about his recovery and sets achievable goals for himself physically, educationally, and emotionally.”

During his final presentation in English class, Kleyn said the students were asked to share a life goal. “Miguel said, ‘Someday I will run again.’ He will,” said Kleyn.

After graduation, Miguel plans to attend Grand Rapids Community College to complete his general education requirements and then pursue a degree in electrical engineering at Grand Valley State University.

- Sponsorship -
Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.


Hands-on history: museum becomes classroom for curious students

It’s one thing to study about history in a virtual classroom; it’s another to be immersed in it inside a museum. Students from every area district now have the opportunity to experience hands-on lessons in after-school programs for third- through eighth-graders at the Grand Rapids Public Museum...

Teacher recruits from Puerto Rico find welcoming new home in Grand Rapids

A recruiting trip to Puerto Rico brought two new teachers to Grand Rapids as part of an innovative district effort to address a shortage of bilingual instructors...

Fifth-graders find beauty in science by dissecting marigolds

One teacher used readily available nature just outside school to introduce this year’s science unit, as well as flowers from home to study the parts of plants...

District bond request Nov. 3 includes upgrades, additions and community wellness & resource center

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools is asking voters to approve a 30-year, $17.79 million bond proposal to fund major reconstruction, additions and improvements to Lee Middle and High School...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

‘Even though it is extra work, I don’t mind the changes’

Teachers of specialty subjects — art, music and physical education — share their experiences after the pandemic prompts changes to class procedures...

Homecoming, modified

The coronavirus pandemic has forced school districts to make changes to the ways they celebrate some annual traditions...

Restoring the land, one tree at a time

Appleview Elementary students and other community volunteers are helping bring back native plants to a section of land around their school, thanks to local grants and the efforts of a retired teacher...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU