It was his sixth-grade year and Damon Watson was perched on his dad’s shoulders, standing in the pit of a Green Day concert. After a year of learning guitar, he spent the summer memorizing chords to every single song from the famed punk-rock band. As the artists prepared for the second song of their set, front man Billie Joe Armstrong picked the boy from the crowd.
“Get your (expletive) up here,” Armstrong told him. Watson came up onstage and as the band broke into their 2009 hit “Know Your Enemy,” he found himself providing “a little guest vocals.”
Watson, now a freshman at Chapman, is a music enthusiast and a mathematics major who can be seen skateboarding through Attallah Piazza with a tennis racket in hand. He practiced his strokes and serves every single day last week – which consisted of participating in team workouts and informal practice with other players. He’s hoping to be one of the 12 players chosen for the Chapman men’s team when the season rolls around in February. That is, if his shoulder doesn’t hold him back.
“This week, I’m taking five days off from Chapman team practices,” Watson said Sept. 10. “I don’t even remember what it was like to just go out there and hit without worrying about feeling pain.”
When his parents first put a racket in his hand at the age of four, Watson fell in love with tennis. By 14, he was training six days a week. Yet one Thursday in his eighth-grade year, the strain of the many hours he’d put into the sport materialized, as Watson felt a sharp sting in his right shoulder. He stopped for a week, then tried to pick it back up again, but the pain persisted. He visited one doctor after another, rested and was prescribed physical therapy, but the injury wouldn’t heal.
“We got all these second opinions and next thing you know it’s two years later in my sophomore year of high school. I was still having shoulder pain,” Watson said.
His father, Wade Watson, said he felt guilty for the days he’d ask his son to play through the injury. With each misdiagnosis, frustration mounted in both men. But Wade stayed aggressive in trying to find someone who could figure out what was straining his son’s shoulder.
“As I was going down the elevator in a New York City hospital, getting the name of the next doctor, I was on the phone with another doctor scheduling an appointment,” the father said.
Eventually, help came in the name of James Gladstone, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and an orthopedic consultant for the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. After examining Watson, he found that the teenager’s injury was worse than a standard ailment. He was diagnosed with a torn labrum and loose anterior capsule – the ligaments in Watson’s shoulder had been frayed too loose to be repaired by anything other than surgery.
“The problem with ligaments and labrums is that when they tear, they stretch out – without surgery, you can’t heal it, you can’t tighten it back up,” Gladstone said. “So when you’re doing therapy, you’re trying to get the muscles to try and compensate for the underlying looseness they create between the ball and the socket.”
After the surgery and during his rehabilitation process, Watson found comfort in doing research on his injury. According to his father, Watson’s nickname in high school was “Encyclopedia.” The freshman said he thought his brain was simply inquisitive and curious, which motivated him to ingest all the information he could as to what was happening with his body – and how he could best treat it.
“The more I knew about the biomechanics of my own body, specifically my shoulder, and the more I knew about what goes into the movements of the shoulder – which muscles control which movements – the better I could inform my own recovery and deal with my own pain,” Watson said.
It was a 14-month process after receiving surgery in Apr. 2017 to get Watson back to where he could play pain-free again. While there were depressions in confidence and bumps along the way, the doctor said his recovery was as smooth as it could be. Through it all, what helped Watson was the accumulation of knowledge he learned about his injury.
“The more I knew about all that, the better I could inform my own recovery and deal with my own pain,” Watson said. “It would help me get less frustrated because I’d have more of an understanding of what was going on. I became aware of what I could do to fix my pain.”
Although he still needs to take time to rest and the burning sensation in his shoulder flares up, the freshman said he’s now in a spot where he feels comfortable enough to push through that discomfort. Watson knows his enemy. And he has made peace with it.