John Esposito lost his legs in a horrific accident last winter, but he retained his desire to fight.
Nine months after his life was changed forever when he was hit by a car while working on a routine road project in Somerset County with fellow public works employees, Esposito relearns how to walk with prosthetics.
He is also instructed on using the manual controls for driving and even doing pillow work, and a boxing training exercise, at Dunlin’s gym.
On Saturday morning, he is set to join friends and supporters at a fundraiser in Mountainide, called Some Other for a Brother, that will raise money to help Esposito cover some of his recovery and rehabilitation costs.
The event builds on his longstanding commitment to Muay Thai, a martial art and combat sport that involves kicks, punches, knees and elbows. Organizers shared a 3-minute video showing Esposito, 31, undergoing treatment at the Kessler Institute and returning to Gym 9 for Thai Arms.
In the video, he shares what happened to him on December 20, when he was hit by a passing car and stuck to a trailer while filling potholes with three other Somerset County employees.
“When I was lying there in the hospital, I realized I had two roads ahead of me. I could put up with and cry about it, but what would that do for me, or I could learn and adapt,” Esposito, of South Bound Brook, told NJ Advance Media.
“Of course, I still have my moments. I think Muay Thai has helped me a lot. It’s all about perspective. If you look at it like your life is over, that’s what it’s going to be. Just like positive thoughts, your negative thoughts can materialize in reality,” he said. .
Fans are scheduled to gather at 9 a.m. Saturday at Echo Lake Park in Mountainide for a 3.5-mile group walk, followed by a Muay Thai training session and barbecue lunch.
The fundraising was organized by the non-profit Muay Thai Project along with Chris Romulo – a former professional Muay Thai fighter seen in the video working with Esposito – and Romulo’s wife, Sarah, a wellness coach and boxer. The registration fee is $50.
Esposito vows to return to the ring and draw inspiration from the Texas Amputee Boxing League, even though he realizes that competing in Muay Thai is likely no longer an option.
“At the moment, I don’t think there is any committee that would allow it. Believe me, if there was a way to continue playing Muay Thai, I would definitely do it,” he said.
“I want to start boxing,” Esposito added.
Esposito, whose legs were amputated above the knees, uses manual crutches and has recently switched to crutches. He walks 20 feet at a time without assistance. He said he was determined to accompany the group at least for part of the fundraising drive on Saturday.
“We’ll just see how far I can go,” he said.
Esposito said one of his co-workers was also injured in the December 20 accident, and he underwent two shoulder surgeries. The two other workers who were helping fill the pits that day were unharmed.
Authorities said at the time that an 80-year-old driver from Warren crashed into a piece of equipment on the road. Then the driver’s 2016 Chrysler drifted into a trailer connected to a county truck, pinning Esposito between the two cars. The other injured employee was standing on top of the trailer.
Esposito said he has little recollection of hearing his co-worker shout his name.
In a video shared by the Muay Thai Project, Esposito recounts that he woke up in the hospital and immediately asked about his legs.
The doctor told him that his legs were gone.
Then he asked if he would walk again. The doctor said he would do it “in due course”, but that it wouldn’t be the same.
“My third question was: So I can’t fight anymore?” He says in the video, laughing at memory.
Esposito is a 2009 graduate of Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School in Bridgewater. Between the ages of 5 and 18, with the exception of a year of football, the only sport he played was baseball.
About a decade ago, he became fascinated with Muay Thai. His first fight was in 2014.
He still visits the Weapons 9 Muay Thai gym every Saturday, to watch the rehearsals, although he said it hurt not to participate.
“I know, in my heart, that I’m meant to be in this room,” Esposito says in the video.
“I know I’m supposed to be here, arguing with these guys, getting along with them, sweating and working out. It kills me sometimes, because I can’t do it yet, but that’s why it motivates me so much to move as fast as I can so I can come back.” To this point,” he adds.
Esposito stayed at the Kessler Institute, a rehabilitation center, for one month, and continues to attend three outpatient sessions per week. He is staying in a hotel until the house in which he will live with his sister is modified to suit him.
His goal, he said, is to “have a basically normal life as I was before the accident.”
He said he misses the easy things, like walking up the sidewalk or walking to the grocery store—things we all take, until you “can’t do it anymore.”
A worker’s compensation covers a lot of his bills, but Esposito said he understands the costs will last a lifetime. He is not expected to return to his county job.
He is determined to move forward.
“For me for being so young, there is no way to let this affect me for the rest of my life. I don’t want to stay. I have a lot of years ahead,” he said.
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Rob Jennings can be reached at [email protected].