From third through seventh grade, Canal Winchester High School junior Sam Decker was one of the most productive players for his recreational and middle school football teams.

From third through seventh grade, Canal Winchester High School junior Sam Decker was one of the most productive players for his recreational and middle school football teams.

Decker scored several touchdowns playing fullback, and he also was the Canal Winchester recreation league's Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 as a linebacker.

But four days after his 13th birthday, an accident would derail Decker's dreams of playing football at a higher level and forever change his life.

On Oct. 20, 2006, Decker and a friend were shooting at soda cans with a BB gun when one of the BB pellets from his friend's gun ricocheted back into Decker's right eye.

Decker was taken to a hospital, where an X-ray revealed that the pellet had gone through his eyelid, iris and retina and was resting between his eye and brain.

Through a series of seven surgeries, doctors were able to save Decker's eye. But they were unable to remove the pellet, which has left him blind in that eye.

"It destroyed his retina, but we're lucky it didn't penetrate his brain," said his mother, Pat Decker.

With his loss of depth perception, Decker was told he could no longer play football or any other contact sport. He missed 32 days of school while recovering from his first three eye surgeries and waiting for his left eye to adjust to the strain of reading on its own.

"I went through all of the emotions like feeling sorry for myself and feeling angry that anyone would go through in my position," Decker said. "It was tough not being able to play football anymore, but I had great support from my family and friends, and they were always there to talk me through my problems. And in a strange way, my accident was a blessing in disguise because I probably would have never chosen to play the sports I do now, otherwise."

Nearly 18 months after his accident, Decker decided to compete in track and field for the first time as an eighth-grader.

After struggling in the 200-meter hurdles for most of the season, Decker finished his season on a high note, placing third in that event in the MSL-Buckeye Division meet.

Decker's success in track gave him the confidence he needed to compete for Canal Winchester's recreational swimming team the following summer.

"I was hurting without sports in my life," Decker said. "I really missed the family aspect of competing for a team. I'm a competitive guy at heart, and even though I wasn't very good at track in the beginning, it felt good to be out there competing again."

While Decker quickly began to excel in swimming, he put together an average freshman track season as he worked on his technique and timing in the 300 and 110 hurdles.

The lingering effects of mononucleosis and sore ankles slowed Decker during his sophomore season, but he worked his way up the Indians' depth chart to become their No. 2 300 hurdler and a member of their top 1,600 relay by the end of the year.

"I don't have any depth perception anymore, so it's hard to see things in space," Decker said. "I can still catch a football or a Frisbee, but sometimes I miss a doorknob when I reach for it. That's made things interesting when I have to keep going over hurdles at a high speed, but I've learned to keep a fairly consistent pace and control myself so I don't throw my timing off."

After training with the Ohio State Swim Club in the fall, Decker capped his high school swimming season by finishing first in the 100-yard freestyle in a team-record 46.1 seconds and third in the 50 free (20.91) in the Division II state meet, which was held Feb. 23-25 at Canton's C.T. Branin Natatorium.

Decker missed the first three weeks of his junior track season because of swimming commitments, but he has posted respectable times since returning.

In the Hank Smith Invitational on April 16 at Heath, Decker finished second in the 300 hurdles (42.65) and helped the Indians' 1,600 relay finish seventh (1:37.01).

In the Piqua Invitational on April 23, Decker placed sixth in the 300 hurdles (43.05) and ran the second leg of the 3,200 relay, which placed sixth (9:01.8).

"We're very deep in the hurdles this year, but Sam's vying to become a top-two hurdler for us," boys track and field coach Bruce Olson said. "He gives us depth on our relays, too. Sam likes challenging workouts and he tends to be a little more vocal than most of our athletes. He's working hard to improve and he takes the time to work with our younger hurdlers, too."

Decker, who would like to swim in college, wants to help lead the Indians track and field team to MSL-Buckeye titles as a junior and senior.

Canal Winchester scored 115 points to finish second in the MSL-Buckeye meet behind Teays Valley (122.5) a year ago, after winning league titles the previous five seasons.

"I'm really happy that I was able to win state (in swimming), but I don't like to bring it up around my track teammates because they give me grief, like when it's raining during practice they tell me I should try to swim to the finish line," Decker said. "My goals are to help our team do well in the 300 hurdles and the 1,600 relay, so that we can reclaim our MSL championship."

Decker doesn't spend much time thinking about the extra hurdles that he's had to clear to get to where he is today.

"I have the mentality that I'm going to take the silver lining approach to life," Decker said. "I have a good life and when I think of the amazing people I've met through track and swimming, it brings a smile to my face."