Rob Spiering doesn't recall much from the night that landed him in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury, blindness in one eye and a vast assortment of other injuries.
Most of what he does remember are tidbits of information he's pieced together over the years.
Spiering, a 2008 Wauwatosa West High School graduate and now a standout tennis player at Concordia University in Mequon, was struck by a car in June 2011 while traveling in London.
Admitting his recollection 'is a little fuzzy,' Spiering said he had a beer with some friends at a local bar. He was returning to a hotel room to watch an NBA game when he was struck by a car in an intersection. Spiering had only just arrived in Europe; he was about to embark on a long stay in Scotland, but decided to spend a few days in London beforehand.
'Obviously I didn't make it back to the hotel room,' he said. 'Just tough luck.'
The details of the incident, Spiering feels, he isn't supposed to know.
'I really don't like to think about it too much,' he said. 'It doesn't benefit me to know all the graphic details.'
Spiering knows he was transported by Flight For Life. His parents, back in Wauwatosa, received a vague phone call from a hospital in London.
What's his birthday? Does he have any allergies? He's been in an accident. We'll call you back. Those were some of the things Spiering's mother, Vicki, remembers hearing on the phone that day.
'We sat there waiting for that call back,' she said. 'We didn't know where he was, where they were taking him or what was wrong.'
Eventually, the parents were clued in and it was suggested that at least one of them make the trip over to London. So, Vicki Spiering quickly renewed her passport and flew overseas the next day. When she arrived, her son, 21 at the time, was in a coma.
'We had to wait until he woke up,' she said. It happened eight days later.
After three weeks in London, Spiering was transferred to a hospital in Chicago suffering from a traumatic brain injury. It was there that he would relearn how to do everyday tasks. He could talk somewhat, Vicki Spiering said, but his words were 'inside out.'
'He took all-day classes where he learned how to eat, how to walk, how to skip, how to run, how to count,' she said. 'The list is just endless.'
Helping him overcome the challenges of learning otherwise simple skills was the idea he would once again play tennis — a sport he had always excelled in.
'I wanted to become athletic, I wanted to make the best out of what I was given,' he said. 'If I was given some free time, I made the best of my time.'
But training to play tennis wasn't without its challenges. Spiering said he remembers a time when a physical therapist asked him to sprint a short distance. Spiering said it felt like he was running underwater, or even backward on a treadmill.
'It was a freaky moment,' he said.
Spiering, now 26, was persistant with his physical therapy and over time, he improved. He would play tennis, even if the blindness in one of his eyes completely skewed his depth perception. He transferred to Concordia University from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 2013 to pursue a degree in sports management. He has played for the school's tennis team ever since, and before conference, his record was 15-4, he said.
'People, every year, they ask that same question: 'Is he back to normal?'' Vicki Spiering said. 'It's a new normal.'
Her son never missed any schooling due to his injuries, and she credits some of his academic succes now to the unwavering support from Concordia University.
'I guess I'm finding myself in a moment of exceptional proudness,' she said of her son.
Spiering said after he graduates in May 2017, he hopes to work in sports management at the college level, and some day, work for the NBA.
'It takes a little while to find the process sometimes,' Spiering said. 'Anything is possible. It just takes a little persistence.'