Dance Like Everybody’s Watching: Chris Bocklet’s Miraculous Recovery

Professional lacrosse players are pretty easy to pick out in an airport, their oblong equipment bags a dead giveaway at the baggage check kiosks as they attempt to unburden themselves of as much stuff as possible to squeeze their first-class bodies into coach-class seats.

Chris Bocklet looks especially conspicuous. In addition to his lacrosse gear, he lugs around a 20-pound ION Audio Block Rocker on wheels with a multi-color spinning dome that illuminates when he plays music for X10 Lacrosse campers or his professional lacrosse teammates. A 31-year-old Beachbody coach with a teenager’s appetite for fun and a penchant for inciting impromptu dance parties, Bocklet literally lights up the room wherever he goes.

“One summer, it was 27 plane rides. I would get so annoyed,” said Casey Bocklet, Chris’ younger sister and co-director of the family camp business that offers a blend of summer sleepaway and lacrosse training activities in the Adirondack, Rocky and Smoky Mountains. “He would make me travel with the boombox — a huge carry-on that I would get anxious about putting up in the overhead — because at the time he was traveling with the Denver Outlaws. I would be stuck with the speaker and get so frustrated. But wherever we went, it made for the best time. He needed to have that big speaker to bring the energy.”

Chris Bocklet did not have the boombox with him Tuesday when he was discharged from the Shepherd Center for brain rehabilitation in Atlanta, but that did not stop him from celebrating in style. He sang and he danced, regaling doctors and nurses — and his Instagram following of nearly 22,000 — with the NSYNC hit “Bye Bye Bye” on a small portable Bluetooth speaker.

Twenty-six days after suffering a traumatic brain injury while longboarding in Delray Beach, Fla., Bocklet was coming home.

“I had the best team working with me and have the most amazing support I could imagine from friends and family,” Bocklet wrote on Instagram. “It’s motivated me so much to keep pushing forward. … Let’s do this!”

“The doctors keep saying you can’t get too high on the highs or low on the lows. But really, every day feels like a miracle.” — Casey Bocklet

It was with that same free spirit and exuberance that Bocklet left his condominium on New Year’s Day, an electric skateboard tucked under his arm. A short while later, he returned bloodied and barely conscious, with an open wound on top of his head. No one knows exactly what happened. Somehow, he walked home with enough time for his girlfriend, Lindsay Schiff, to call for an ambulance before his condition worsened.

Bocklet, who was not wearing a helmet, survived the accident but suffered brain damage that rendered him mute after the first of multiple seizures at Delray Medical Center and kept him hospitalized there for 11 days. He lost 20 pounds and still could not speak in complete sentences when his doctors transferred him via air ambulance to the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation facility in Atlanta.

A video posted Jan. 12 on Instagram shows Bocklet repeating only the word “yes” as family and friends greet him outside the hospital. In the accompanying photo from inside the ambulance, he offers a thumbs-up gesture with his left hand while holding a Kirkland nutrition shake in his right.

There’s another object in the video, however, that has become a symbol of hope and support for the Bocklet family — a handcrafted wooden lacrosse stick from the Akwesasne reservation in New York, a Mohawk Nation territory, resting on Chris’ right shoulder. Stick maker Jack Johnson donated it to Casey Powell’s World Lacrosse Foundation, which supports and advocates for sick and severely injured lacrosse players.

Powell presented the healing stick to Bocklet’s brothers, Mike and Matt, who were in Florida with the rest of the family even though only their mother, Terry, could visit Chris due to COVID-19 restrictions limiting visitors to one per day and the Bocklets’ decision not to overwhelm him with too many different faces to recall and recognize.

Powell also started the GoFundMe campaign that has raised just shy of $250,000 to help pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance and lost wages as Bocklet sets out on his long road to recovery. More than 2,000 people have donated to the cause, most of them connected to lacrosse, a sport in which all four Bocklet siblings starred at the high school, college and professional levels. Their father, Barry, used to coach at John Jay and is one of the top football and lacrosse officials in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Locally and nationally, the Bocklets are beloved.

“They’re the sigil of what a lacrosse family looks like,” said Archers LC goalie Adam Ghitelman, who was teammates with Chris in college at Virginia and professionally with the Atlanta Blaze. “I’m just so proud to be part of a community like ours.”

Ghitelman laid most of the groundwork for the GoFundMe campaign before passing it along to Powell, whose World Lacrosse Foundation was already registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. He also used his social media platform, Lacrosse Film Study, and its vast library of classic lacrosse highlights as an incentive for people in the sport to contribute either financially or with word of mouth.

“I’m really close with the Bocklet family. I caught the news through texts. The hair on the back of your neck stands up,” said Ghitelman, who also is a volunteer assistant coach at Utah and co-founder of the Give and Go Foundation. “I’m 2,000 miles away. What can I do to help? That became my mission. For the past three weeks, it has become a full-time job for me to raise awareness for his cause.”

As the lacrosse community mobilized around them, Bocklet’s family bubbled together, first in Delray Beach and then in Atlanta. Shortly after arriving at the Shepherd Center, he was diagnosed with global aphasia, a disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control and process language. His memory still fails him more often than not, but his recovery in reading, writing and speech has been nothing short of miraculous.

There were glimpses along the way, like when Chris was still in the intensive care unit at Delray Medical Center and asked the nurse to call Matt, who brought his phone on a run just in case that happened. He was only a few miles from the hospital when the call came at about 7 p.m.

After several fits and starts, Chris finally strung together a question.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m going for a run,” Matt replied. “I’m trying to get my act together and get myself in shape. I’m trying to be more like you.”

Matt will never forget the four words Chris said next.

“New year, new you.”

“It was such a Chris thing to say,” Matt said, recalling the exchange a few weeks later.

In conversations with Mike that occurred early in Chris’ recovery, he frequently used the expressions, “Oh wow,” acknowledging the wonder of rediscovering the world around him, and “I’ve got a lot to learn,” said with the same resolve that made him a three-time All-American attackman at Virginia.

And when Casey saw Chris blow a kiss to Schiff over FaceTime and then metaphorically plant one of hers on his cheek, she thought to herself, “Oh my gosh, he’s still there.”

The way the specialists at the Shepherd Center explained it to his family, Bocklet’s brain was busy creating neural pathways between cognitive functions — rewiring the network around the parts that were permanently damaged. That work will now continue at an outpatient facility in Jacksonville, Fla., where Bocklet will spend six hours per day, five days a week in an intensive cognitive rehabilitation program.

It could take up to a year, maybe longer, for Bocklet to fully regain control of his mental faculties. Schiff greeted Bocklet, his head still bandaged after debridement surgery to remove the damaged and infected tissue, with a hug and real-life kiss when he walked in the door Tuesday. Then she showed him a caricature of him in a cowboy hat riding the #BigChrisEnergy bus while clutching their Boston terrier, Snoop, and a Bluetooth speaker.

And the healing stick. As shown in the Instagram video where Bocklet plays catch in the Shepherd Center garden with his mother and speech therapist and attempts a one-handed behind-the-back pass, his muscle memory remains intact.

“Physically, he’s doing better than any of us could ever imagine,” Mike Bocklet said. “His mobility has been unbelievable.”

There’s also a message next to the caricature — one that reflects both the unrelenting positivity Bocklet and Schiff share as well as the work that lies ahead.

Welcome home to Brain Camp 2.0.

“The doctors keep saying you can’t get too high on the highs or low on the lows,” Casey Bocklet said. “But really, every day feels like a miracle.”