Andy Canchola, McKay High School Class of 2022, stands on the school soccer field (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
This article is part of a series of profiles of Class of 2022 graduates.
Andy Canchola Guerrero spent his last weekend of summer riding ATVs with his family and best friend near Tillamook.
Canchola, now 18, was heading into his senior year at McKay High School, looking forward to the first game of the soccer season that Monday.
But his friend, who had never driven an ATV before, took them around a curve at 35 miles per hour and flipped the vehicle. Canchola said he didn’t realize he was injured until he looked down.
“That’s when I saw my hand kind of hanging,” he said.
He was flown by helicopter to Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, where his right hand was amputated due to a serious infection.
Canchola now laughs recalling the accident and doesn’t blame his friend, who walked next to him at McKay’s graduation ceremony Friday.
“I guess that was my first mistake, letting him drive,” he quipped about his injury.
The loss of his hand meant he couldn’t play goalie. He missed about two weeks of his senior year, then returned to class. But Canchola was still in pain and struggled to stay motivated.
“This honestly kind of carried on for like, the next six, seven months where I just couldn’t focus in class,” he said.
He was anxious and couldn’t get his mind off the accident.
Though he’d been on track to graduate, Canchola started skipping school and his grades dropped. It took about three months before he could write legibly with his left hand, he said.
Fall semester, he failed several classes he needed to graduate. School counselor Natalie Dunn had a running joke with him about Jamba Juice because she’d run into him at the outlet when he was supposed to be in class.
Andy Canchola smirks as a school counselor discusses his academic comeback during his seniors year at McKay High School (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
But Canchola stayed involved with the soccer team, cheering on his teammates and playing in the last three games of the season as a forward.
“I don’t know if we would have gotten the same result if that had happened to another kid,” said Javier Gutierrez Baltazar, a school counselor and McKay’s assistant soccer coach.
“Him putting (his jersey) back on and just going out there, being himself on the field shows the high level of resiliency that he brings with him,” Gutierrez Baltazar said.
As spring approached, Canchola assumed he wouldn’t have enough credits to finish high school.
“None of my family thought I was going to graduate,” he said.
In May, he was having trouble sleeping as he thought about his future. He didn't want to be a fifth-year senior.
“I see people that were seniors last year still coming to school and I thought, ‘That's embarrassing,’” Canchola said.
Canchola talked to his counselors, who helped him plan to complete his missing work and credits.
Dunn said she and his teachers had been rooting for Canchola and were ready for him when he was able to again focus on schoolwork.
“He's just got a strong heart and a will to do stuff. And that's his grit. So we just had to tap into it, and he had to figure out that it was okay,” Dunn said.
Much of his missing work was in math, so Canchola spent hours each day in a math teacher’s classroom, doing assignments needed to earn credit.
Dunn called his mom when needed to check in and keep her posted on her son's progress.
Canchola finished his school work and has just started thinking about his future. He works full time at Lowe’s and plans to continue over the summer. Then he hopes to earn his commercial driver’s license and become a truck driver, the field his brothers are in.
He sports a sheepish grin when he talks about the work he’s done over the past few weeks to finish his schooling.
“I guess I’m kind of proud of myself,” he said.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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