Glouster Community Carries Local Teen Through Bone Disease

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What does Austin Shifflet say after his new prosthetic legs gave him the chance to walk and live without pain?

The Glouster 17-year-old says little. He smiles, a cluster of friends surrounding him, a community of support — no, positively a crowd — bustling and eating and auctioning all day Saturday at the village's Eagles Club.

It is all for him.

Don't mistake any shyness with a lack of tenacity. A fresh start underneath him, Austin lifts weights regularly to build lower body strength to help make walking just a little bit easier each day.

Even more, Austin's mental strength has helped him through two years of suffering a rare bone disease which relegated him to a wheel chair. After years of pain and failed attempts at rehabilitation, he was ready last summer for doctors to take them off.

Living and taking classes at home with his grandmother Bonnie Shifflet, who owns Bonnie's Home Cooking in Glouster, Austin stayed positive even after his first leg was removed this past August.

Many of his friends took the field later that month for the Trimble Tomcats football season opener. Austin remained one of the team's biggest fans all season, as the Tomcats plowed through to the state championship game.

In truth, it was the Tomcats who were there for him. Loading and unloading his wheelchair, team members helped Austin get to and from each game, especially for the long playoff road trips.

Once there, the team made sure he had a good spot closest to the fence to watch the games.  

"The football team carried him through," Shifflet said. "They were just wonderful to him."

Austin's second leg was removed just days before Thanksgiving. For the first time in years, his pair of prosthetic legs gave him the chance to walk.

"They told him it would take six weeks," said Candi Holly, vice president of the Glouster Eagles Club and a family friend to the Shifflets. "It took him nothing."

Jacob Altier, a captain on the Trimble Tomcats, attended the Eagles Club benefit and said it was important for the community to look out for one another.

"Austin's been one of my best friends since I came to Trimble," Jacob said. "(This is) what friends do."

Austin no longer needs his wheelchair. There is a fluidness in his step, in part thanks to his weightlifting regiment with his fellow Tomcats. There is the comfort of stability in his life, not just through his prosthetic legs, but in knowing his community is behind him.

He is finishing up most of his home-school classes and will need just one more until graduating on his own next year, his grandmother said. Most of all, he is excited to join his friends at the Trimble High School prom.

What does Austin say of his new chance, of his community filling up the Eagle's Club?

The Glouster teen says little. He is willing to let his legs do the talking and the walking.