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Grateful Wrestler Reunites with Sports Medicine Doctor to Thank Him

Sonny Marchette has lived and breathed wrestling for most of his life. He was ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the country back in his high school days at Walsh Jesuit High School in the late ’90s. More recently, Sonny, age 45, retired after 20 years coaching college wrestling at Notre Dame College.

When he was 16 years old, Sonny experienced what he calls a defining moment in his life.

“I was at an invitational wrestling match for top national wrestlers and snapped my ACL midmatch,” says Sonny. “I ended up finishing the match, but then the pain and shock set in.”

The prior year, Sonny had lost his father to cancer and changed high schools. This additional blow was another obstacle he would have to overcome. But a visit to John Pinkowski, MD, Cleveland Clinic Akron General sports medicine physician, gave him some much-needed hope.

“He met me when I was at my worst,” says Sonny. “I wasn’t the easiest patient to deal with.”

Dr. Pinkowski knew Sonny had been through some recent family hardships and he was emotional about being hurt.

Sonny Marchette side by side

Sonny coaching wrestling.

“This is not unusual in high school athletes, but Sonny just needed someone to empathize with his situation,” says Dr. Pinkowski. “Sometimes being a surgeon is more than doing surgery; it may also mean providing emotional support. Our common connection was that I was a graduate of Walsh.”

Sonny was told he would need surgery and would likely have to sit out some of the season, but he says hearing that motivated him to work extra hard to get back to the sport he loved.

“I had too much at stake,” he says. “I wasn’t scared because I really trusted Dr. Pinkowski and felt I was in good hands. He gave me the confidence to believe that I was going to be OK.”

“Sonny was likely my hardest-working ACL patient ever — sometimes scaring me by accelerating his rehab beyond what was suggested, which could have been dangerous,” says Dr. Pinkowski. “I remember getting phone calls from Mark Herble, the athletic trainer at the school, asking what Sonny was allowed to do.”

“We didn’t have insurance, so I took what I learned in my short time in physical therapy and developed my own drills and routine,” says Sonny. “These are things I still do and teach my athletes today.”

In 2008, Sonny tore his meniscus and sought out Dr. Pinkowski again for advice.

“At that time, I was really into mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting,” says Sonny. “Dr. Pinkowski told me he could do surgery and there would be a four- to six-month recovery, or I could forgo surgery and just learn to be careful. I chose the latter.”

Just two years ago, Sonny wrestled in the U.S. Masters division and won.

“For me, still being able to compete all these years after my surgery is a feat, not winning,” he says.

Over the years, Sonny has often thought about Dr. Pinkowski and the difference he made in his young life following his injury and his father’s death. He hoped to one day cross paths with him again to thank him. In 2023, he finally got the chance.

“I saw Dr. Pinkowski at the Hoban/Walsh alumni game because he is the team doctor for Walsh,” says Sonny. “He remembered me, and he even tested my knee to see if everything was still in place.”

“It was a special and humbling moment for me, one that I will never forget,” says Dr. Pinkowski. “Sometimes we, as doctors, don’t realize the impact we have on patients.”

“Seeing him brought back so many memories,” says Sonny. “I just wanted to see him and tell him that I wouldn’t be who I was or where I am today without his care. He was more than just a doctor to me.”

Learn more about the sports medicine program at Akron General.

Related Institutes: Orthopaedic & Rheumatologic Institute
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