KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 26, 2015) – It was a snowy day and Brad Clower was sledding with a friend on a north Knoxville golf course. He noticed a manhole cover and was careful to miss it on several icy rides down the hill.
Clower was ready to quit when he decided to take one more ride. That’s when he and his sled – and his lower back – connected harshly with the metal manhole cover.
On Tuesday, Feb. 17, the 24-year-old youth minister at Bearden United Methodist Church broke his back in a sledding accident.
Clower is not paralyzed, he’s quick to point out: “My legs and arms were moving so I knew it wasn’t a spinal injury.”
However, he was in so much pain after the accident that his rescuers called 911. The hill was too icy for the ambulance to reach, so paramedics had to slide Clower down the rest of the hill on a back board. “I was in the snow for 30 or 40 minutes before they could get to me,” he said.
Today, the student pastor is more than a week into a recovery period that could take five to six months. It’s been challenging, he admits. When he was discharged from the hospital, his parents couldn’t take him home because their electrical power was out. On top of that, the day before his sledding accident, Clower’s 21-year-old sister underwent gallbladder surgery.
“It was hard to know what to do,” says his mother, Whitney Clower.
On the first night after leaving the hospital, Clower went to a friend’s home. He then returned to his Knoxville apartment, where he is only comfortable resting in a recliner chair. The congregation has gone out of their way to reach out to him, he said.
“They’re the most praying bunch of people I’ve ever met,” he said. “I can feel their prayers.”
The accident caused a fracture in the T-12 and L-1 vertebrae in his lower back, which won’t require surgery but rest, cautious exercise, and time to heal, Clower said. He's wearing a brace and using a cane to walk.
Snow and ice have caused recent youth activities to be canceled; Clower's still figuring out how to do his job once the weather improves. In the meantime, he and his 15 to 20 youth members are communicating through text messages and Facebook.
“I can do a lot of work on a computer, but my favorite part is teaching,” he said.
Clower has served as Bearden’s director of student ministries since June. He’s a 2012 graduate of Austin Peay State University. His goal was to become a basketball coach, “but I felt my heart changing toward the kingdom. I started losing the luster for basketball.”
Clower was working as a teacher’s aide in special education at Fulton High School in Knoxville when he heard about the youth ministry opening at Bearden. He was impressed by the congregation he describes as “extremely nice, Christ-centered, and community-focused.”
In addition to his work at Bearden, he teaches Bible study and leadership classes at a University of Tennessee fraternity. He’s a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“Jesus will not waste your sorrows. My mother really instilled that in me,” Clower says, speculating that the injury and recovery will give him insight into his ministry. “God may have also wanted some ‘me’ time, which I don’t do very well. I like to be active.”
In the meantime, does he have any words of caution for sledders enjoying the last weeks of a long winter?
“No,” he answers. “Life happens. It could have been worse.”