Flying through the air was what Chase Kear loved most about pole vaulting. Kear, a self-proclaimed "small-town country boy" from Colwich, Kan., was good at it too, winning an athletic scholarship to a local community college.
Then Chase had an accident so severe it may have taken a miracle to recover from.
"I will never forget Chase's coach saying 'It's bad, it's really bad,'" said Paula Kear, Chase's mother. "He said he was vaulting and he missed the mat."
During a routine pole-vaulting practice, Chase's pole had flexed to the extent that he crashed on the ground and landed on his head, cracking his skull from ear to ear. He was immediately airlifted to Via Christi Regional Medical Center in Wichita, Kan., where the doctors' news for Chase's parents was not good.
"They told us that he had severe trauma to his head and that he had a better chance of dying than living," said Paul Kear, Chase's father. The Kears were left to think about what Chase would be like if he survived.
"Institutions, diapers, a vegetable, I mean that's what we were facing," Paula Kear said. "We knew that."
Chase's churchgoing Catholic family asked that he be given the last rites. But while his parents were struggling with fear and shock, his aunt had another idea.
"My sister said, 'Do you want to call our home parish and put Chase on the prayer line?' and I said 'Yes, please,'" remembered Paula Kear. "She said, 'Do you want him on the Father Kapaun prayer?' and I said yes."
Click HERE for a slide show of Father Emil Kapaun and of Chase Kear's life before and after his accident.
The parish at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Colwich had been praying for several years to Father Emil Kapaun, a priest from the area who had volunteered as an Army chaplain in the Korean War.
Kapaun was captured and imprisoned with his troops in a prison camp in Pyokong, North Korea. Fellow prisoners of war said Kapaun's selfless ministries and willingness to share his meager rations saved other soldier's lives. Kapaun contracted pneumonia in the prison camp and died.
"He was always willing to go out and be with the men where they needed him the most, and that was usually on the front lines," said Father John Hotze, vicar of the Wichita diocese.
Many members of the Colwich parish pray to Kapaun as people elsewhere pray to Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa. All three are candidates for sainthood. The faithful believe the candidates led exemplary Christian lives and can intervene with God, the only one who can perform a miracle.
"The idea is the miracle shows that you're definitely in heaven and it's a sign of God's favor," said Father James Martin, author of "My Life with the Saints." "Christians believe that when you pray you're praying to someone who is basically putting in a good word for you."
With hope from the world of science and medicine dwindling, the Kears turned to their faith. Chase's parents put a Kapaun prayer card on his hospital bed. Chase's younger brothers put the prayer on Facebook, asking friends and family to pray to Kapaun on Chase's behalf. There was no shortage of prayers for Chase going out to the dead war hero.
Chase's doctors, meanwhile, did what they could. "They said if we don't do surgery he'll die, and if he comes off the table he'll probably get an infection and that will take him," said Paul Kear.