David Wolmark always challenged himself academically, but when a serious hiking accident left him bedridden for most of his junior year, he excelled in and out of the classroom.
In the summer of 2013, Wolmark was leading an expedition through the boundary waters of Minnesota with the Boy Scouts of America. As an Eagle Scout he was an experienced hiker, but during that trek he slipped on rough terrain and fell hip-first onto a rock. Not wanting to abandon his group, Wolmark continued on the trail, using canoe oars as crutches. After hiking in pain for 13 miles back to the base camp, he had emergency surgery to repair his left femoral neck, the uppermost part of the thigh bone.
"My life was turned upside down," said Wolmark, 17, of Port Washington.
Months after recovering from the initial injury, he suffered an even worse setback. Avascular necrosis, a rare complication in which the bone tissue begins to die because of a lack of blood supply, had set in. Wolmark had another surgery to hollow out his bone, and for more than six months he had a metal external brace with eight pins sticking out of his body to support him. He left his Port Washington school in December and didn't return for the rest of the academic year.
Simple things such as wearing clothes, tying his shoes, sitting in a chair and finding a comfortable position to sleep became almost impossible. He didn't have the structure of a regular school day, and his network of friends began to dissolve.
But Wolmark, one of Newsday's 12 Extraordinary Seniors, persevered.
He began home instruction and stayed focused on his schoolwork. In his downtime, he played folk songs on the guitar and even taught himself the banjo and the mandolin while lying on his back.
"Why not?" Wolmark said as he reflected on his musical undertakings. "I had the time."
Wolmark even planned events for his fellow Scouts, Troop 7 out of Port Washington, he said. No surprise to guidance counselor Elias Gomez, who called Wolmark a "bright, principled, caring young man."
Wolmark struggled socially when he returned to school as a senior. His grades, however, were stronger than ever and he was among the top of the class.
Wolmark joined the high school robotics team and won first place in the Long Island Regional and second place in the New York State Finals of the NY Automotive Technology Competition. He took the SATs and also designed an acoustic guitar for his senior project.
"David has the right combination of academic ability, intellectual curiosity and personal drive to achieve whatever goal he sets for himself," Gomez said.
This fall, Wolmark will head to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate Troy, where he will study mechanical and aerospace engineering. He said he is looking forward to positioning himself for a career at a large engineering firm and then studying toward an advanced degree, probably a doctorate.
Despite a grueling year, Wolmark said he considers himself lucky to have made a full recovery.
"It gave me so much appreciation for what people with disabilities go through in their everyday life," he said.