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Carducci's comeback: Placer junior getting used to playing tennis with eye patch

Hillman still has double vision after I-80 rollover
By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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Coach Tom Isaac didn’t think Andrew Carducci would be playing tennis this year.
Several months ago the sport wasn’t even an afterthought for Carducci.
“I was wondering if I was going to be alive, to be honest,” says the Placer High School junior, who was involved in a tragic Interstate 80 rollover on Sept. 14 that sent him to the hospital in serious condition. “It didn’t cross my mind about tennis. I was just wondering if I was going to be around next year.” 
Carducci can recall very few details of the accident that left with him skull fractures, double vision in his right eye and some hearing loss in his right ear. 
“We were going on the on-ramp and the last thing I can remember is the driver started going really fast,” Carducci says. “I was kind of worried — she was going really fast. After that, it’s just no memory. I just remember waking up and being in a helicopter and that’s about it.”
Of the eight Placer High students involved in the rollover, Carducci suffered the harshest injuries. While six students were taken to area hospitals, only Carducci was flown from the scene via Calstar after being partially ejected from the vehicle. 
Carducci, who was playing soccer for the Hillmen’s varsity team at the time of the spill, doesn’t remember the first two weeks of laying in bed at Sutter Roseville Medical Center. He doesn’t recall being in ICU. And he has vague recollections of rehab.  
“It seems like my brain just took all of the accident part out,” he says. 
While in the hospital Carducci lost 25 pounds, which he’s struggling to put back on. Doctors initially told him he wouldn’t be released from their care until December because of a blood clot in his neck, which they feared could cause a stroke. Once the threat went away, doctors gave Carducci permission to play non-contact sports in mid-October. 
But first he had to relearn how to sit, swallow, stand and walk. He also had to regain his concentration. 
“My attention span was from about 10 to 15 seconds when I was in the hospital,” Carducci says. “… Everyday for about four hours we’d work on third-grade math problems.”
By the time the first semester of the year came to an end, Carducci was able to solve high-school math problems — and through it all, he was still able to post a 4.0 GPA.
In his time of need, the Auburn community held several fundraisers to help his family.  
“It was really good to have everybody support me and cheer me on,” Carducci says. “The donations have helped pay for the insurance and stuff we had to owe.”
Up until about three weeks ago, Carducci was wearing a patch to cover his wounded right eye at school. Being around a bunch of teenagers on campus, jokes and odd looks were abundant.
“A lot of people didn’t really make the connection,” Carducci says of having to wear the patch after the incident. “They thought I was crazy or celebrating Halloween a little early.”  
Carducci acknowledged it was hard at first to walk around in public with a patch after spending a month in the hospital. Eventually he got used to the reaction it caused, and now can even talk about it jokingly. 
“People are like Carrrrr-ducci,” he says. “A lot of pirate jokes are going around; a lot of one-eyed jokes. Carrrrr-ducci comes around a lot. It was my good friend. I just dealt with it.”
Carducci has faced with his situation in rather impressive fashion. 
In January, he started working with coach Isaac’s daughter, Ashley, for about 20 hours a week to make his return to the tennis court for the upcoming Placer coed season. 
Last year Carducci, a lifelong tennis player, was on the No. 1 doubles team at Placer. Isaac was expecting him to return as one of the top singles player in the Sac-Joaquin Section this year before the accident occurred.  
Carducci’s comeback to the sport has been no easy process. 
“Slowly but surely, he’s playing at a pretty good level of tennis,” says coach Isaac, who’s been coming up with unique workouts to make Carducci stronger. “It’s not the level he was at before. I think he’ll surpass the level he was at last year but not what he could have been. He’s a real hard working kid. It’s an inspiration to the other kids. 
“The most important thing in this kid’s life is not that he’s a tennis player but that he’s learning to deal with a disability.”
Without the patch, Carducci has double vision. 
“Two tennis balls coming at you doesn’t work out,” he says. “With the patch, it’s difficult, but after playing for a while I’ve got some depth perception back. I can somewhat time it right, but I’ve had to change my stroke to compensate.
“… At first it was really hard. I’d swing and miss every time. Coach taught me how to adjust my swing.”
Carducci hopes to get eye surgery in the near future to correct his vision, but he says he’s likely going to have to deal with his hearing loss as surgery could make the loss permanent. Next year he expects to be playing soccer again as his skull fractures are projected by some doctors to be fully healed.
For a short, and perhaps unbearable time, Carducci was getting whipped on the court by Ashley. Though Ashley is one of the top players in Northern California for her age, the fact that’s she’s 12 didn’t settle well with Carducci. 
“It got emotional,” Carducci says. “Yeah, it kinda sucks thinking about getting crushed and happy to get a point against a 12-year-old girl. It definitely motivated me to get better.”
“Those were the good old days,” Ashley says, laughing.
These days, Carducci is starting to return to form and is no longer losing to the little girl. 
“I miss those days,” Ashley playfully says. 
“I don’t,” Carducci replies, smiling. 

Reach Matthew Kimel at matthewk@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter@matthewkimel