CORAL GABLES, Fla. – As practice concluded Wednesday afternoon on the Neil Schiff Tennis Courts, assistant coach Petar Danolic gathered the University of Miami men's tennis team together to tell them a story about a young boy who has inspired so many.
Luke Siegel was a mild mannered nine-year-old who loved playing sports, talking sports, watching sports and going to sporting events.
On July 28, 2015 at 2 p.m., the world of Luke and his family changed. His father Tim received a call that Luke was involved in a golf cart accident. At the hospital, the family learned that he had suffered major head trauma, multiple fractures and collapsed lungs.
Luke was in University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, for 44 days. During that time, he had multiple surgeries and procedures.
Luke was then admitted to Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, with a goal to participate in extensive rehab and therapy. Unfortunately, his blood pressure and heart rate limited his hours of therapy.
After returning home to Lubbock, Luke has continued to work extremely hard through therapy and has continued to improve to this day. Tuesday, April 18, Luke celebrated his 11th birthday with his family.
“I hope our guys can find inspiration in this story and remember how grateful we have to be every day for what we have,” Danolic said. “Sometimes when we get angry for missing a shot or losing a match or not getting what we would really want, we can remember Luke Siegel and how that young boy lost so much at such a young age and he is still fighting like a true champion. He is not giving up. His family is not giving up. They fight with every ounce of their soul to make things just a little better. Tim has been using this quote a lot ‘one foot in front of another.’ ”
Luke’s father, Tim Siegel, coached at Texas Tech for 23 years before retiring July 9, 2015. Tim guided the Red Raiders to 12 total NCAA Championship appearances and a 330-244 overall dual meet record.
Danolic played under Tim during his four-year undergraduate career at Texas Tech (1995-99), where Danolic graduated as the winningest player in Red Raiders history.
“My relationship with Tim was very special. He was a great coach, and his coaching philosophy was all about intensity, passion and never giving up. As a player, I loved it,” Danolic said. “But what followed after my years at Tech was what really made it special. We remained friends and he never stopped helping me for the past 20 years.”
Five years after earning his bachelor degree, Danolic returned to his alma mater to coach alongside his former mentor (2005-07).
“When he called me to be his assistant few years after my graduation, it was a great honor for me. It was then when I saw an even greater side of Tim. He was a father of four wonderful kids and I couldn't imagine anyone being a greater dad than he was and still is,” Danolic said. “I was there when Luke was born and I remember how proud Tim was. He was a guy who lived for sports and he would always say how he can't wait to play throw and catch with Luke, go to baseball games, etc.”
It was this memory that stuck with Danolic once he found out about Luke’s accident.
“When I learned about the accident, Tim just told me briefly, ‘next 48 hours are critical,’ ” Danolic said. “As the time went by and we learned Luke’s recovery was going to be longer than originally anticipated, I couldn't imagine Tim's pain knowing how he was and how he viewed life. Whenever I would talk to him, he would say that he lost passion for everything he had, his whole life, and it was at first very saddening.”
“As the time went by, and I would follow Tim's and Luke's fight over social media through numerous posts and videos, I started to have more respect for Tim than ever before,” Danolic said. “I would say to myself how sometimes I wish I was half a man he is. Everything he ever taught us about fighting and never giving up, he started to show us in the most dramatic fashion. And he passed that spirit onto his son. They are both fighting like true champions and this is what gives me inspiration. Often, we forget how much we have, and we always want a little more. The Siegel family story puts a whole new perspective on all of that.”
After telling the team Luke’s story, Danolic passed out t-shirts and bracelet’s to the entire team, that read “TEAM LUK3” reminding the guys to always “keep one foot in front of another.”