On Thursday March 18, the College sent a campus-wide e-mail informing students that Darwin Manning ’13 was injured while attempting to board a train running through campus. Students dispersed for Spring Break filled with uncertainty about Manning’s condition.
Kane Balser ’13 and Manning were filming a movie for the upcoming Titular Head Film Festival. Manning jumped on the train after watching Balser jump on and off the train successfully, according to Manning. Even though Manning landed on the railway car with ease, he began to lose his balance
“I was riding on the train, but then my right foot got really uneven and the second my right foot started shaking, before I knew it I was on the ground,” Manning said.
Manning’s right leg had gotten stuck between the train’s ladder and car. As a result, his leg twisted while his body fell backwards and landed on the ground next to the train tracks. Balser quickly pulled Manning away from the tracks in order to prevent further injury and dialed 911.
Manning’s leg was, however, severely impacted from the fall and received a planar break in both lower leg bones.
“While I was grasping for air I looked down and I saw my foot and it looked very… how should we say, very strange. It was just hanging there very loosely,” Manning said.
Despite the severity of his injury, Manning tried his best to keep composed after falling.
“The first thing I did was I saw my Brooklyn Dodgers hat on the ground and I picked it up and started dusting it off and put it back on,” Manning said.
Soon after, the ambulance arrived and transported Manning to Grinnell Regional Medical Center, where a hospital helicopter flew Manning to the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City. There he underwent emergency surgery at 1 a.m., underwent another surgery the following Monday and received care until his release on Friday March 26. Manning then stayed at the home of Nancy Maly—the former Director of Admissions last year—until last Saturday when he returned to campus.
Manning explained that initially, there was a big possibility that his leg would have to be amputated. Both his tibia and fibula were shattered from the fall. Underneath the mysterious blanket that Manning has been sporting as of late, a fixator device with six pins hold the affected bones in place. He will be in a wheelchair until the summer, then he will begin physical therapy, according to Manning.
Manning’s doctors observed that his damaged skin tissue is recovering and are optimistic that Manning would make a full recovery over time, according to Manning.
Though Manning’s leg was never severed nor run over by the train, news articles falsely reported otherwise. Several newspapers published an Associated Press wire days after the event stating that according to Jody Matherly, Chief of Police with the Grinnell Police Department, that Manning “definitely fell under the train in the incident Thursday evening, and the train wheels appear to have gone over part of his right leg, which was nearly severed. Such articles spurred rumors exaggerating Manning’s injury, which quickly spread across the Grinnell community. Matherly could not be reached in time for print.
Balser, who had jumped trains before the day of Manning’s accident, said he felt survivor’s guilt after witnessing Manning’s injury.
“I also started to doubt my assumption that I couldn’t also have been hurt by the train, which is leading me to think maybe I won’t keep riding the train,” Balser said. “Looking back, yeah, it was a stupid idea, but I’m mostly grateful that Darwin’s going to be alright.”
Despite a long road of recovery of ahead, Manning has been focusing on the positives.
“I love doing outdoor stuff. I’m still going to be able to do some outdoor stuff like fishing and even maybe trying to play catch.”
Manning is currently facing trespassing charges from Union Pacific Railroad Company, though he has yet to go to court. The train jumping footage of Manning and Balser remains with the Grinnell Police Department and will not be returned to the owners until the case is resolved. Manning plans to create a film showing the aftermath of the accident and his experience of being in a wheelchair.
Manning said that he is thankful for everyone who helped him around campus the first couple of days back from break, despite bouts of inclement weather.
“I’ve learned from this experience that in life you’re always going to take risks,” Manning said. “When I was staying with Nancy Maly she told me to think of things like they do on Sesame Street, that for every action you take in life there’s going to be consequences and to always think ahead.”