His dad remembers what a tenacious kid he was on the football field.
“Everybody telling him he can’t do this or can’t do that, or he’s too small, just put a fire in his belly and motivated him even more,” Matt Liston says about his son, Colby.
You might expect a proud father, who watched his son grow into a standout football and track athlete at Derby High School, to say that.
But there is Colby Liston sitting before you at his home in Derby, both legs missing below the knee as a result of a car accident two weeks ago, and you can see what his father is talking about.
How is he doing?
“It gets better every day,” Colby says.
“It’s just easier to be optimistic about it,” he says. “Instead of saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to be in a wheelchair for four weeks,’ I’m saying, ‘Hey, in four weeks I’m going to be up on my feet.’ ”
That is when he will be fitted for prosthetic legs, he says. In six weeks, he plans to be independent on them.
Colby Liston, who graduated from Derby in the spring, watched the Summer Olympics and saw Oscar Pistorius of South Africa compete in the 400 meters on prosthetic legs. He was amazed. He did not know that Pistorius soon would become his role model.
Competition at a high level isn’t out of reach, he believes.
“That’s one of my higher goals,” Liston says. “It’s going to take awhile to get there.”
Liston, 18, had just started his freshman year at the University of Kansas. He had planned to walk on to the Jayhawk track team. He had filled out all the forms and had a physical exam at the health center on campus on Aug. 25.
But about 1:25 a.m. the next morning, Liston and some friends were trying to climb into the back of a friend’s SUV that had stopped on a Lawrence street to pick them up from a party. Another SUV slammed into them from behind.
Liston was pinned between the two vehicles, his legs crushed. He was taken to the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, where doctors amputated his legs just below the knees. The others who were trying to get into the vehicle suffered minor injuries.
Liston doesn’t remember the accident.
“All I remember is going to get in the back of the car, and waking up in the ambulance,” he says.
After the surgery, it was his father who told him what had happened.
“He woke up and asked if he had casts on his legs, and then I said, no, he didn’t have any casts,” says Matt Liston, community education supervisor for the Derby Police Department. “He said, ‘I thought I broke my legs. I thought I’d have casts.’ So I had to tell him how severe his injuries were.
“His first reaction was, ‘How am I going to get to class?’ The second thing he said was, ‘Well that guy just ran the 400 and he didn’t have any legs,’ ” Matt Liston says.
Colby’s reaction was so matter-of-fact it shocked his father and his mother, Dara, Matt Liston says.
Colby Liston says he never felt down. He was soon tweeting his thanks to well-wishers and telling them he hadn’t suffered anything that he couldn’t overcome.
People in Derby began raising money for the family’s medical expenses.
“We don’t know what all the expenses are going to be yet, but we want the best for him,” Matt Liston says. “He should be able to live his life just as he was planning on living it.”
Last week, two buses were chartered to take Panther fans to the Derby football game at Salina South, with money from the fares going to Liston’s family.
The Derby Recreation Commission has set up the Colby Liston Recovery Fund to help with long-term medical needs. Contributions may be made at the Derby Recreation Center, 801 E. Market in Derby; at Verus Bank locations in Derby, Augusta or El Dorado; and at the Oaklawn Activity Center, 4904 S. Clifton. Donations also may be made by calling the recreation commission at 316-788-3781. Liston used to work for the commission as a lifeguard and youth-league baseball and flag-football official.
Liston will be honored at Derby’s home football game on Sept. 28. A benefit golf tournament will be held in early October, and a 5-kilometer run and other sports and family activities are planned for Oct. 21.
An organization called “Team Liston” has sprung up in the community to support Liston. It also established a “Team Liston” Facebook page to coordinate activities and provide information.
On Thursday, 600 “Team Liston” shirts were printed at a Derby shop, and by Friday afternoon nearly all had been sold at $10 per shirt.
“It’s Colby’s phenomenal attitude that’s inspiring people,” said Mark Staats, a family friend who is helping with the effort.
Liston, who wants to major in petroleum engineering, said he plans to take online classes from KU in the spring and return to the campus in the fall.
Meanwhile, he continues to receive support from friends as well as people he doesn’t know. Kansas State high jumper Erik Kynard, who won the silver medal at the Olympics, tweeted Liston, and former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel phoned to tell him to keep his head up. Kansas basketball coach Bill Self phoned him on Friday to praise his positive attitude.
“I never knew there were so many people that had my back,” he says.