By Ronald Hanaki
Zach Marchiano was a young lad from West Chester who came to ESU in 2012 as a freshman criminal justice major.
With a debonair personality and a charm like no other, Marchiano quickly made friends and advanced up the social ladder at ESU.
Since Marchiano played lacrosse in high school, he joined the lacrosse club as a defender. There he met fellow player Nick Chesko.
“I met him during my freshman year. It was the first day of our lacrosse club meeting in the fall of 2012. We were also neighbors in Shawnee Hall and lived in the same dorm,” explained Chesko.
The two lacrosse teammates immediately hit it off and became best friends.
At the end of his freshman year, Marchiano and one of his buddies went to Atlantic City for a weekend getaway at the beach.
On a beautiful Sunday in June, Marchiano was body surfing in the water when a wave crashed upon his neck.
“My neck hit the sandbar and fractured my C4 vertebrae, and my C3 and C5 pinched on my spine,” recalled Marchiano.
“They airlifted me to a hospital in Atlantic City where I stayed for five weeks. Then I was transferred to Thomas Jefferson in Philly.”
“I was in the hospital in Philly for a week to get surgery, and then another week I got put into physical therapy at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Center City,” Marchiano explained.
“I was devastated,” Chesko remembered. “I never thought that it would happen to someone. He was my best friend from school, so it was kind of tough.”
Marchiano took a year off from school to focus on his rehab.
“Rehab was six months of physical and occupational therapy,” said Marchiano. “Then they sent me back home to do outpatient care.”
“Basically, they told me it’s going to take time to regain my movement back,” continued Marchiano. “I was told that I was not going to regain all my movement, but I could get 85% to 90% of my back and muscle movement.”
“Right now, I can wiggle my toes and move my ankles up and down and pinch my knees together and move my fingers. I got my motion back while I was home for a year. It was outpatient therapy where they worked to get my function back,” said Marchiano.
“Then I convinced my Mom to send me back to ESU last year,” said Marchiano.
Marchiano now gets around on campus in a wheelchair, but it helps that Marchiano has his best friend Chesko looking out for him.
Moreover, the lacrosse club has acted as his support system.
“He’s improved so much from where he was in the hospital. I’m glad he’s back and on campus. He’s an inspiration. If he can do it, I can do it, too,” said Chesko.
“I first met Zach in a big survey course in Beers Lecture Hall. He had Nick with him, and he was already in the wheelchair,” said Dr. Michael Gray, adviser to the lacrosse club and a professor of history at the university.
“He was answering questions right away,” continued Gray. “He was not shy at all. When I found out his story and what happened, I took an interest in him.”
“I thought to myself, ‘Here’s a guy in a wheelchair but he raises his hand in class and is more actively engaged than most other students,’” said Gray.
When Marchiano came back, the lacrosse club welcomed him with open arms.
Last May, the lacrosse club awarded Marchiano with their “Unsung Hero Award.”
Chesko described how it happened, saying, “It was the first week of May during the Kentucky Derby. We were having a cookout.”
“Dr. Gray came,” continued Chesko. “After handing out a number of awards, Professor Gray began to describe a person and what made him great. This person motivated us as a team to come together.”
“When Professor Gray said Zach’s name, I don’t think I’ve seen a bigger smile on his face. He was yelling, ‘I won an award! I won an award!’ That was his day. We were saying thank you for coming back. No matter what life throws at you, he can overcome it.”
Kevin McDermott was the former ESU lacrosse club president and has been supportive of Marchiano.
“The Unsung Hero Award sheds a light on a player that doesn’t get as much recognition as he should,” explained McDermott. “The winner of this award shows up to every team event with a smile on his face, and truly represents what the club is about.”
“He may not be the most talented or skilled, but the team would not be the same without him,” continued McDermott. “This person creates camaraderie and that brotherhood feel a team needs. If you know Zach, he was the perfect first recipient of this award.”
Gray was effusive in praising Marchiano, saying, “Besides being challenged, Zach is a special student. He is so optimistic and positive. I am thinking of naming the award after him.”
“I see myself as a normal person,” said Marchiano. “I have my ups and downs like everybody else. Of course, snow is a challenge, but I find a way.”
“This semester, I am becoming a new member of the Theta Chi fraternity here,” he added. “I have also volunteered at the Special Olympics.”
Through it all, Marchiano remains ambitious about his future.
He said, “I am trying to be a probation and parole officer. This winter, I hope to do an internship with the Chester County police department.”
“I have 50 credits left to go as of right now, but my goal is to graduate maybe next fall,” said Marchiano.
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