Darin Strenzel ’08 is not the kind of guy who likes sitting on the sidelines. The lanky young man is in the game...and he’s in it to win. With a double major in accounting and entrepreneurship, he caught the attention of managers at Cat Logistics and has worked part-time there for the past two years. In his spare time, he competed in intramural sports — men’s and co-ed basketball, volleyball, flag football, indoor soccer, softball, and bowling — and won six championship T-shirts in one semester. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to be out of the game. Sitting on the sidelines is hard for me.” The game of life became a fight for life last December when Strenzel was the victim of a shooting in Michigan. Now, even though he must adjust to life without a left leg, his enduring ‘can-do’ spirit keeps him ahead of the game.
The end-of-the-semester frenzy was over. The holidays were approaching, and Strenzel was looking forward to a relaxing break. He and his family traveled to Michigan to visit relatives and to go skiing. They were staying with Strenzel’s aunt and uncle on December 23, 2006, a day that would change Strenzel’s life forever.
Strenzel and his father were in the basement playing pingpong. His aunt, uncle, and their two young daughters were hosting a dinner party with his uncle’s sister, recently divorced, and her new boyfriend. The sister’s enraged ex-husband came to the house, then went to his truck to get his guns. Strenzel said, “My uncle went to the garage to talk with him. The guy had a rifle and a handgun, and the ex-husband shot my uncle in the chest. They had been friends as brothers-in-law.”
Strenzel and his girlfriend Carla find a quiet moment on the quad. © Scott Cavanah, MFA ’04
Strenzel meets with Kathy Hahn of BU's marketing department in Baker Hall. © Scott Cavanah,
Canadian fishing trips still yield a great time for Strenzel. © Caroline Haapala
Strenzel and his father stood shoulder to shoulder against the door to keep the ex-husband from coming into the house. “He started shooting through the door and hit me right at the pocket of my jeans. I got down on the floor and crawled behind the island in the kitchen facing down. There were at least 12 bullet holes in the door.”
By the end of the ordeal, the shooter had killed himself after murdering his ex-wife’s boyfriend and Strenzel’s uncle. Strenzel had been shot in the femoral artery, and the bullet went out the back of his leg.
Strenzel said, “The shooting was extremely fast. It’s a big blur.” His father rushed him to the hospital. He was then transported to the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, where he remained until January 21, 2007.
Strenzel recalled, “I knew when I was shot that my leg was pretty much gone. A bullet almost always destroys something vital. I was just hoping I would live. I’ve looked forward to the future with my girlfriend [Carla Renken, whom he’s known since his high school days in Streator] and graduating from college. I’ve been working so hard to have a good life when I got out of school, and everything changed in a split second because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Doctors tried to save his leg, but eventually amputation was the only choice. Strenzel said, “We had a lot of tough times in the ICU. I was in total discomfort 24 hours a day. That was emotionally draining on everyone. My leg was in pain, and when they finally removed my leg, I had phantom pains. It felt like my leg was bent back under me, and it was going through a meat grinder. I was on the highest pain medications allowed, and I could still feel pain.”
A week after his release, he was hospitalized for two weeks with an infection in his stump. Healing with an infection was a slow process, and he couldn’t be fitted for a prosthesis until the infection cleared up. Finally, last summer, he was fitted, but he was discouraged with the new hurdles ahead. Now adept at getting around with crutches, his challenge was learning to walk again. In addition, the socket where the prosthesis attached was not properly fitted, so he had to wait longer for more adjustments.
He commented, “When I got my leg, it seemed like an extreme step backwards. I was wobbly; curbs, steps, and elevations were all hard. It’s been a slow climb back up. I wear the leg when the leg is better to use, and I take the crutches when crutches are better. I can wear the leg three to six hours in a day, and by the end of the day, I will be rubbed raw in three or four spots. I’ve been told it takes six months to adjust to wearing it all day. It’s a big learning curve. I’m glad to have the leg, though. I’ve done things I want to do, like softball [where he hits the ball, runs to first base, and a designated runner takes over] and dates with my girlfriend.”
Strenzel resumed classes in the fall, and more than anything, he simply wants to fit in. “I don’t want people to make exceptions for me. I want to be like everyone else. It’s nice having help, especially when I’m tired, but when I’m strong, it gets to me a little bit.”
He gets frustrated sometimes: “I’ve never been on crutches, never taken any pills. I pretty much base my activities around pill times now. I go to my grandparents’ house and see their big pill box, and now, at 20 years old, I have my own big pill box.”
And yet, he remains optimistic: “This is what I have now, and there’s always further hope. When I get used to my leg, I’ll be hoping for an athletic leg. When I get that, I’ll be looking at the technological advances they come up with. Life is full of setbacks, but I have so much more than before. Being positive is my only option. I’m not going to roll over and quit. My parents, my girlfriend, my roommate, Caterpillar, Bradley, people I don’t even know — all have been very supportive. Setbacks don’t stop me with the people I have around me.”
He concluded, “All of this has shown me how great people can be. That’s what has changed in me — my faith in people. Random shootings, people slashing tires...those incidents make me lose faith in the human race. But the way people have treated me, a person they barely know, is unbelievably amazing.”
For more information on Strenzel, including additional photos, visit myspace.com/strenzelbenefit.