Columbia High School sophomore third baseman Luke Jackson is our Annex Athlete of the Month for April. We’ve decided to highlight the stories of some of our athletes on a regular basis and Luke’s story is a remarkable one of recovery from Tommy John surgery, a surgical graft procedure in which the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.

As you may know, Annex CEO Mickey Brueckner underwent Tommy John surgery himself so he feels passionate about helping rebound after going through the procedure. Luke has worked extensively with Mickey at our facility. We are happy to report that Luke is back on the field and thriving.

We had a chance to ask him about his experience.

Q: How did you feel when you were told you needed to have Tommy John surgery?

A: I was absolutely crushed. My heart sank and I felt demolished. This was going to be my third major surgery before I even reached high school. I felt remorseful of what I had done to myself. I knew there was something wrong with my elbow way before I ever told someone.

I really needed a confidence boost and a pick-me-up before I was going to be back to the level of baseball I was accustomed to. This is where Mickey really played a key role in the recovery. It was not about just my body, but my feelings and confidence. 

Q: We heard that you are back and having fun playing baseball again. How does that feel just to be playing again? 

A: To be back and playing after 18 months of being sidelined is one of the best feelings that I could have. I have been out for long periods of time prior to this incident, but this one hurt the most. Mickey really made it possible for me to come back to baseball at the level of performance I am playing at, but he also put my confidence through the roof. He allowed me to understand that I was capable of coming back and being even better than before, which was something that I was feeling sort of in the gray about and lost about how I would do in my return to baseball. 

Q: How did you discover the Annex?

A: Through a therapist at JAG Physical Therapy in West Orange, Dan Kane. Dan was also very helpful in my recovery process, but there got to be a point where I needed to be doing higher intensity workouts and rehab than what was possible at JAG. He recommended the Annex and Mickey to be my trainer because he dealt with the injury that I had. 

I really needed a confidence boost and a pick-me-up before I was going to be back to the level of baseball I was accustomed to. This is where Mickey really played a key role in the recovery. It was not about just my body, but my feelings and confidence.

Q: How has working with Mickey helped you the most?

A: He not only helped me to drop some of the weight I gained through my injury, but he also helped me gain a good amount of muscle to my body. That is just the training aspect though. During the rehab process for my elbow, he threw with me everyday and never allowed me to push myself to a point where I could re-injure myself.

He would go out of his way of his busy schedule to throw with me and to tend to my specific individual needs. He also kept me positive, and confident in my abilities. He saw potential and skill in me that I thought I had lost to my injury and made sure I knew that he thought I was going to be fine and that those abilities were not lost to my injury.

Q: What aspects of training do you enjoy?

A: The aspects of training that I enjoy are coming in to the Annex and seeing all these people who are there for similar reasons to me. They all want to get stronger, faster, more athletic like me. Being in a setting like the Annex allowed me to be social and meet new people. I was able to make new friends and bond with other athletes and coaches fairly easily.

The training part also was better due to the staff and the dedication that they put towards their athletes. There was never a moment where I felt I was left to have to figure something out by myself.

Mickey of course helped me get through my issues, as well as the whole staff, but another trainer at the Annex named Matt [Petrillo] was a huge part in my recovery too. He was incredibly kind to me, a funny guy to be around. But he was also serious and could help you get done what you needed to get done. 

It isn’t just a place to go and workout, it is a place to meet new people and socialize with others who enjoy the same thing as you. I was a part of the Annex community for about a year, and it was one of the most complete and interesting years of my life, and I did it all without being on the field. 

Q: What are your personal goals for this season?

A: Continue to be a middle of the order hitter for my schools lineup and to continue being the starting third basemen and to have as little strikeouts as attainable. With baseball, you fail a majority of the time, but my goal is to make those failures to be the most productive failures they can be. Failure in baseball and everything is imminent, but I hope to keep mine to a minimum and to help the team win.  

Q: Who do you see as your role models and why?

A: Of course it will always be my parents because of all they have done for me, but also I would have to include Mickey in this list because of how humble and generous he has been towards me. He was always kind and supportive and he is one of the main reasons I’m able to do what I am doing today. My parents have also kept me positive and made sure I was happy at all times with where I was in my rehab stage, and to make sure I knew they were there for me if I had any issues. 

Q: Why do you love baseball?

A: Because it is a game like no other, and being on the field allows you to just relax and have a good time. There is no clock in a baseball game. There is no hurry or rush to finish. It’s a competitive game that requires a certain skill set to really become successful at. The feeling of hitting a homer or coming up in a clutch moment for the team is a feeling that only baseball can give me. 

Q: Any advice or words of encouragement for other athletes who are coming back from a major injury?

A: It really isn’t as bad as it seems. In the moment it seems like the worst thing ever, but as tedious and aggravating as it was, looking back on it now I realize I got a whole new perspective on the sport and life that I didn’t have before my injuries. You can get through it, if you have the right people like Mickey and the Annex staff by your side, you can come back the times better than ever before.