by Joe Taraboletti, Ponte Vedra ’21 & Denver ’25
FLN Note: Chris Bocklet, for those who aren’t familiar, had a storied career at UVA, the MLL/PLL and as a mentor to many lacrosse players in the state of Florida. I first met Chris when he and his family ran some end of year clinics in Delray Beach, where his family had a place. We kept in touch a little and chatted when we saw each other at a game. When his skateboarding accident occurred in Delray we followed his sister Casey’s Twitter account for updates, and like so many in the lacrosse community, hoped for the best. Joe has thankfully filled in the blanks for what Chris has gone through the last year and we thank him and his family, and Chris. for giving us permission to post this.
The article is just as much about Joe’s learning experience from working with Chris as much as it is about Chris’s journey the past year. I did get to see Chris in Orlando at the IMLCA Convention and while there still is a journey left, I was happily surprised by how far he’s already recovered. There are a few dessert treats waiting for Chris the next time he’s in Delray, as well as for the Taraboletti family.
“Every single day is a gift,” Chris said as he and I watched the sunrise between drops of sweat dripping off our faces. We had just run a beat-the-sun set of 200-meter sprints and decided to take a minute to reflect before we had to wake up our campers from their Christ School dorms in Asheville, North Carolina.
“Life is all about the little things. After you’ve gone through what I did, you see that life is what you make of it. You have to find gratitude in every single situation,” he continued as I took in a deep breath of relaxation in hopes of enjoying the little things Chris spoke of.
Sitting on the dewy grass, Chris tells me to lay flat on my back. I follow his lead and we lay still for a moment without speaking a word, listening to the few birds that chirp, the buzzing of the wings of bees, and the swaying of leaves in the breeze. “You see Joe, if you stop for a moment and think about how poorly things could be, you find peace in what is right in front of you,” he further enlightens me. “People complain of losing their sense of smell and taste from COVID and it makes me chuckle. Imagine losing your emotions and not being able to react.” The fact is I can’t imagine that nightmare, but he has been all too close to it.
On this beautiful morning, I find myself inspired. Having always found anxiety in the little things, I cling onto Chris’s newfound perspective. Appreciation for the little things is what jumpstarts a positive outlook on one’s situation. Having lost almost everything so suddenly, Chris has learned to enhance his already remarkable attitude via meditation, breathing work, and his gratitude journal, all rooted in the traumatic experience he entered on New Year’s Day of 2021.
Chris Bocklet, a well-known and respected athlete in the lacrosse world, was left hospitalized due to a skateboarding incident that resulted in extreme brain damage. This brain trauma left Chris unable to speak, incapable of connecting the visual image of things and people to their name and lacking emotional expression all together. Stuck in his mind and unable to communicate to the outside world, Chris found himself in a Hellish nightmare of fear and confusion. But, knowing Chris, I knew there was no way he would ever let this situation trounce him and his lively spirit.
The first few days in the hospital following his incident in Delray Beach, Fl, Chris Bocklet found himself laying in a hospital bed unable to speak to his family or even recognize their names. On the fourth day, an update was released to friends and family sharing Chris’s early progress. This update shared that Chris was making progress in that he could finally utter a few words such as “hi” and “good morning” as well as recall the names of a few close family members. Amongst these close individuals was his girlfriend, Lindsay Schiff, whom he recognized enough to blow multiple kisses. Along with his mom, Lindsay was arguably the greatest motivation to Bocklet’s recovery, as she stood by his side throughout the entire journey. Her love and support were put into overdrive as she described how she felt her whole “world was crashing in all around” her. This special bond was exactly what Chris needed to jumpstart his recovery, but this wasn’t all the encouragement her received in order to push him all the way there.
“I’ve never felt an emotion or feeling like that… that I’ve got a team of people I don’t even know behind me,” Chris mentioned in response to having the entire lacrosse community around the country messaging and supporting him. Chris’ face was everywhere. From Instagram to Facebook to Twitter, Chris Bocklet’s story was at the forefront of the lacrosse world and with it came more support than is even fathomable. Over the course of just a few days, a Go Fund Me created to raise money for the surgeries Chris was anticipated to require, raised over $242,000 in funds. But it wasn’t the money that really hit home for Chris – it was the text messages, posts, DMs, videos, and universal outreach from people with whom he knew and didn’t know. Chris referred to this “as a beautiful thing that gave [him] the belief to come out of this thing stronger than ever.” And, that he did. Although, he initially couldn’t understand the names on his phone nor the magnitude of such support, when he did finally understand, Bocklet was at a loss of words. Scrolling through the messages for hours on end, an ember grew in his belly, one that only grew greater as he continued to read and absorb the love. It grew until it became a raging flame of motivation.
After 7 days in Florida, an attempt was made to transfer Bocklet to the top-notch treatment at the Brain Trauma Program at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The morning of his relocation, Chris experienced two seizures that ended up delaying this process by a few days. Fortunately, the seizures did not result in any last effects or additional trauma damage to Chris’ brain. A nurse shared with Lindsay and Chris’ family that these seizures, as scary as they are, are a part of the healing process and should not be feared as potential regression.
By January 15th, Chris was finally settled in Shepherd Center where Chris was ultimately diagnosed with a condition called Global Aphasia. This term is simply the scientific definition for damage to the brain that has resulted in an extreme difficulty in one’s ability to speak and understand the exterior world. An update posted to Instagram by Lindsay Schiff compared this mental phenomenon to “being in a foreign country/planet and having to learn many things for the first time” all over again.
After just four days of being at Shepherd, Chris made a remarkable turn towards the end goal of complete recovery. At this point, Chris found himself able to speak, read, and even, although he wasn’t supposed to be, back on social media. Although he still couldn’t comprehend everything he read, these improvements were remarkable and deeply impressive to the nursing staff that aided his recovery. But these weren’t the only people given further hope. Seeing Chris’ smile back on social media gave the lacrosse community who had been supporting him a second wind and enhanced the optimism they already felt. Increased outreach, comments on his posts, and a return to the connection to the outside world he so dearly missed gave Bocklet more fuel to the fire of motivation needed to come out on top of this ordeal.
By January 26th, Chris had graduated from Shepherd Center and was ready to move back home to Jacksonville Beach, where he would attend what Chris calls “school.” Officially known as Brooks Outpatient Rehab, this treatment was designed to restore the understanding and mental capacity he lost in the process of his injury. Unfortunately, though, at this point Chris still could not understand all that he took in, leading to an intense frustration. But Chris didn’t let this affect his positivity, and he instead went into the first day of his 8 to 12 week “school” excited and ready to learn everything all over again.
On his first day at Brooks Rehab, Chris instantly walked in to find himself in a hazy fog of gloom. Sad faces sat in silence, some able to walk, some not. No one seemed excited to be there, except for Chris who quickly became engulfed by the misery and found himself amongst the sad faces. In this moment, Chris’ hope fled while his mind “spiraled with negative thoughts” and he asked himself, “what am I doing here?”. He felt the weight of the sadness resting on his shoulders and clouding his mind. So, at the first opportunity to step away and think, Bocklet took advantage of eating his lunch outside and walked out the front door of the facility.
Chris stood there alone with his thoughts, staring up at the clouds and the bright Florida sun, as he couldn’t prevent the welling of tears in his eyes as a deep dive into his thoughts. The clouds passed over the sun, and although there was a brief interval of darkness, the warmth of the sun soon followed, brightening everything below. As the shadows of the clouds are short-lived, so are the shadows of the mind; and the light of both the sun and optimism inevitably prevail.
As he continued to further ponder this thought, Chris reflected on his situation. He saw the mourning faces of those around him and came to the realization that these people were more than just his classmates, they were his rehabilitation family. He understood that they were all in this together and needed a quick dose of optimism. As he walked back inside after lunch, Chris was wearing both a JBL speaker on his shoulder and the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. He blasted music and instantly, although he initially received some odd glares, lit up the room with his infectious positivity.
“When I walked outside, I swear the sun came out,” Chris said in reference to this instance, “in that moment I decided that sun is what I wanted to be… I decided to be me.”
With refreshed optimism, Chris finally introduced himself to the one classmate, a young man named Tony, who didn’t scrutinize Bocklet with confusion as he blasted Bob Marley after their lunch break. “If you don’t mind me asking,” Chris said, “why are you here?”, prompting them to both shared their stories as to how they ended up in the same brain trauma rehabilitation facility. Tony was a victim of a horrific car accident in which he lost one of his close friends in addition to suffering brain injuries that ended up confining him to a wheelchair. This newfound friendship became more special and influential than Bocklet ever could have expected.
“It really put things into perspective for me,” Chris said. Having interacted and heard the traumatic experience of Tony allowed Chris to find a new way to look at things and instead of feeling down about his current situation. He instead was able to shift his mindset in order to see that things could be much worse. Additionally, having a new buddy to whom he could relate was very important in helping Chris to find his way through this nerve-racking, and somewhat demoralizing, time. Being able to share an experience with an individual, forms relationships that allow people to push each other to go further by holding one another accountable creating what Chris called “a shared purpose.” Chris had seen this firsthand in athletics through his impressive lacrosse career, but now he found himself overcome with a necessity to use this lesson in life.
The sole relationship between Chris and Tony began to extend to the rest of the class, further enhancing that sense of unity. Chris asked his new friends, “Do you all feel like there is a reason we are all here? That we are all interconnected?” Due to Chris’ positive outlook, this idea led to immense reflection by the entire group, as everyone began to help each other achieve their goals instead of just being there to get better solely for themselves.
“I created a fun hat Friday,” Chris said. “I even started handshakes as a reminder to my classmates as to say, ‘you got this.’ It formed a bond that created excitement and changed the momentum for everyone, including myself,” he continued. At a time when everyone needed support the most, including himself, Bocklet became more focused on creating a community that in turn would inflict recovery and an eagerness to be there. His smile not only inspired others but the infectious attitude reflected back towards Chris, allowing everyone to progress towards rehabilitation as a team.
As he progressed through the Jacksonville Brooks Rehabilitation classes, Chris had to relearn everything he had previously known including the name of friends, names of fruits, his hometown and even the beach. His first breakthrough was when he was finally able to correctly identify the names of fruits displayed via a television.
“What is this fruit Mr. Bocklet?” the nurse asked as she showed an image of an apple on the screen in front of him. “Ummmm,” Chris paused as he thought long and hard as to what this foreign food may be. “An apple?” he asked with hesitation. “Yes!” the nurse said with astonishment. “And this one?” she asked while displaying a banana. “Is it a ba…. Banana?” he asked while studying the yellow fruit. “Great work!” she responded with pride.
“It was the little wins that really meant the most,” Chris mentioned as he reflected on the remembrance on the name of an apple. “They added up and over time; each little win gave me the hope I needed to do this thing,” he continued. He found that each one of these victories, no matter how small, was something to be proud of and for which to be grateful. The accumulation of these success and the associated thankfulness in turn sprouted into the happiness and positive outlook that Chris was so well respected for sharing. While others may hold their head down and look for pity for their situation, Chris looked at every positive he could find. This unique outlook was the driving force that pushed him further and further down the path to complete recovery. His light was infectious, as his decision to look at the positives spread amongst his family, friends, and classmates in his rehabilitation course. Never had the nurses of the Brooks Rehabilitation Center in Jacksonville, Florida seen such positivity and energy in a soul. He inspired everyone around him, especially his classmates, to see the silver lining in everything. By the time Chris graduated from his classes at the Brooks Rehabilitation Center in Jacksonville, he had cut his expected time almost in half and had helped the rest of his classmates, including Tony, exceed the expectations of all the nurses, having made strides much faster than thought possible. This is the inspiring nature of Chris Bocklet.
By May of 2021, Chris Bocklet was back out on the field with me, helping me to work towards my own goals. No more bandaged wrapped head and a heightened capacity to see the good in life, we took to the field once again as a coach and player.
“How have you changed how you now live?” I asked him. “Diving into things like meditation, breathing exercises, and a gratitude journal that I plug into while I go out and watch the sunrise have all been amazing. I just constantly try to feed the good,” he responds.
With that, I was once again inspired by Chris, and decided to instill those techniques into my life. Starting out with Whim Hoff’s breathing methods and my personal gratitude journal in which I would record what I am thankful for illuminated the positivity that has always been around me but was once dim.
By June Chris and I were coaching together, side by side. Here he shared his story to the wide-eyed campers, the inspiring journey he took with all of its peaks and valleys, the tears and cheers, and the relationships and emotions. The tale of triumph despite the odds as he kept a positive mindset as to let the clouds of turmoil pass, the campers sat on the edge of their seats. Although I had heard this speech many times before, I couldn’t help but feel those same goosebumps I did the first time I listened.
The same day Chris and I watched the sun rise in the dewy grass of Asheville, North Carolina, we sat by a raging campfire having already put our campers to bed. “You see this fire?” Chris asked me, as though to pick up our conversation from earlier that morning, “its burning with beauty and passion, Joe.” I stared at the fire more intently as he continued, “Sometimes things aren’t going to go your way, as they didn’t for me, but you need to find the fire to keep you going. You need to have a growth mindset.” I understood what he was saying but had to ask, “How do you find that fire?” What Chris said next is something I will never forget and is the root of the admirable inspiration everyone sees in Chris Bocklet. “The relationships you share with those around you and the gratitude you find in the little things in life make it worth living. That is where you find your fire.”