Teen emerges stronger after time at Central

Hinsdale Central's Ben Monahan was fired up about his junior year in the fall of 2021. As the Red Devils' starting quarterback, he was attracting considerable interest from college football programs, fueling his dream of one day playing in the National Football League.

But the season took a nightmarish turn when he broke his leg in the opening game.

"That obviously crushed me," related Monahan, now a senior.

His will to overcome, however, remained intact.

"Through all adversity, there's a silver lining. It made me stronger, more resilient, and it forced me to dig deep and really test my discipline," the Hinsdale resident said.

The late assistant Central football coach Craig Kruse, who lost his battle with brain cancer last fall, became a powerful role model during the journey.

"I had physical therapy four to five times a week. It took about six months to get back on my feet," he said. "(Kruse) was with me every step of the way throughout the injury process. He taught me the true meaning of overcoming adversity."

Monahan's Central career also has been marked by leadership, including serving as student body president this year. That role comes with the honor of addressing his fellow class of 2023 members at the graduation ceremony June 1.

"I've been nervous to give the speech," he admitted, crediting activities director Sally Phillip and dean of students Kristen Bronke for providing helpful counsel.

He intends to touch on the theme of perseverance, a quality the class learned when thrown into the COVID "chaos" in the second of half of freshman year.

"It was a tough time to adapt," Monahan said. "To be thrown into remote learning as guinea pigs as freshmen. You're trying to figure out high school while having to adjust to at-home learning."

When Monahan suffered another broken leg during his senior football campaign, he drew on the resilience he had stocked in reserve. The experience even generated a new interest in science, Monahan shared, thanks to Hinsdale Central team physician Dr. Ronak Patel's support and encouragement.

"He made me realize that adversity doesn't define me, it refines me," Monahan said. "He was pretty much the big reason I'm leaning toward pre-med, because I want to have that same impact.

"I've always had this inclination to leave a positive impact for others," he added.

Monahan said his focus during his four years has evolved from obsessing with grades to the pursuit of knowledge. He credits physics teacher Dr. Jim Vetrone for that shift.

"He always was one to seek answers with his students and helped me be a better learner in life," he said.

His final days at the school spur memories of Homecomings and Wing Toss Thursdays while driving home that this stage of life is closing.

"It was first moment where I was like, 'Wow, I really am graduating, I really won't see many of these people again and I better appreciate every moment I have left at Hinsdale Central,' " Monahan said, underscoring his anticipation of graduation.

"I think it's going to be a really special night."

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean