What's up, doc: Creel's journey to today 'an inspiration'
A. STACY LONG
Aug. 09, 2018
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Jordan Creel, freshly graduated and newly hired physical therapist, starts working on a patient.
He works her leg one way, then the other, keeping up a conversation about the comfort level — specifically how much pain — each move brings.
Creel, still the same low-key, aw-shucks person he's always seemed to be, doesn't steer any talk toward himself.
Nor should he.
But those who know him, those who helped him through massively trying times when he was at Alabama Christian and watched him go through more in college, say they're in awe.
An undergraduate degree in biology from Stillman wasn't enough.
Creel, who had already persevered through so much, went on to physical therapy school at Alabama State, graduated this year and — at the ripe old age of 27 — is starting his career.
"He's an overcomer," said Don Gilliam, who was Creel's baseball coach at ACA. "He had every reason to quit when it got hard, but he didn't.
"He has to be able to look back at his accomplishments and feel a lot of satisfaction."
Creel has gone through so much.
The biggest thing was when he was a sophomore at ACA. He awoke one morning in October 2007 to find smoke seemingly just above his nose. Creel escaped the house fire, though his mom died.
Karen Creel, a single parent whose dance moves still bring a smile to Jordan's face, was 43.
Paling in comparison are the two knee surgeries that he's had for sports injuries, plus the torn labrum in college that ended his playing career altogether.
At that point, with a year left to go at Stillman, who would have blamed Creel for wanting to simply graduate, find a job and go live his rest of his life?
Except he jumped back in for four more years of school.
"I guess he wanted that 'Dr.' in front of his name," said Gregg Baker, who was ACA's football coach when Creel's mom died.
More than a decade later, despite Baker — who is now an assistant at Wetumpka — changing jobs five times and Creel going to junior college, Stillman and ASU, they remain close.
Baker refers to Creel as his "son."
"He has worked his fanny off, and he finally made it," Baker said. "It seems like he's been in school forever."
Creel says "I don't know" why he persisted, except he had listened to so many people express regrets for not doing more themselves.
He's thankful that he kept his baseball scholarship for his final year at Stillman because it was difficult enough to pay for four more years of physical therapy school.
Creel faces $70,000 in debt from student loans, but he's confident he has a profession that will be both lasting and personally satisfying.
"I've heard so many people say they wish they could go back, they wish they could do this or do that, they wish they would have finished college or wish they could do something else," Creel said.
"I didn't want to be that person."
Creel has gone through the uneasy feeling of hearing others tell his most-tragic story — without even knowing he was in the crowd.
The house fire was in October 2007, early on a Thursday morning. A day later, weary of mourning and certain his mom would wish it, Creel — also a football player for ACA — decided to play that night at Daleville.
Then-ACA athletic director Denise Ainsworth was driving him to the school just as the team bus was scheduled to leave. She called Baker and told him to wait.
That night, there were tears in the pregame locker room — and cheers and tears afterward.
Creel ran for a career-high 232 yards with two touchdowns, made nine tackles and forced a fumble to lead ACA's 24-21 upset. The opposing coach even spoke to Creel and the Eagles.
Three years later, after he had graduated from ACA and was playing baseball at Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton, Creel listened as a stranger told the story.
"At the end, he said, 'I hear he's a pretty good guy,'" Creel said. "I guess that's something."
Could he run for 232 yards today? "After a couple of knee surgeries and shoulder surgery, no," Creel says.
But one early injury also helped lead Creel to where he is today.
He met Conan Brooks — pronounced Cah-nin, not CO-nan — after a small injury early in his high school days. During treatment, Creel asked Brooks what it took to be a physical therapist.
That relationship endured, too.
Creel worked for Brooks as a technician for two summers during college. During college, Creel would ask Brooks questions, sometimes texting at 10 at night. Brooks always answered, Creel said.
This summer, with Creel needing a final clinical rotation to finish his physical therapy requirements, he worked for Brooks' new Phoenix Rehabilitation.
After the rotation and Creel's graduation, Phoenix hired him.
"We are so glad to have him. Finally," said Brooks, the co-facility director at Phoenix along with Jason Harris. "Jordan has never not done something well, and anything he sets his mind to do, he's going to make it happen.
"Jordan had every reason in the world to give up and settle for a lot less, but he didn't. He's really an inspiration."
As far as the now-rebuilt house, Creel said he's "taken a little stroll" by it a few times. It looks identical to the one he escaped.
He's curious if the people living there are aware of what happened.
"I haven't gone and knocked on the door or anything. I'm not a creeper," Creel said.
However, Jordan's new status has fomented dissension among his former ACA coaches unsure if they will call him by another word.
Baker has for years, even before graduation, teased Creel that he's "Dr. Creel." He's also texted Creel pictures of fishing trips that Creel couldn't take with him, which has led Creel to simply reply (in jest): "I hate you."
Gilliam is set to call Creel simply "doctor." Ainsworth proudly gives Creel "kudos" for what he's done, but will stop short calling him any D-word.
"I'm not," Ainsworth said, firmly tongue in cheek. "He's got too big a head already. Somebody has to keep him humble."
Baker admits he should try to curry as much favor as possible with Creel in the coming months.
Baker is scheduled for knee replacement surgery in December and plans to seek Creel's services for his rehab.
"I'd be ashamed if he went anywhere else," Creel says.
All those extra wind sprints, all that extra coach-player banter that the player really can't answer, all those "Dr. Creel" cracks and all those fishing-trip picture taunts leave Baker in dire straits.
Baker's comfort level may not be a high concern when it comes to his rehab, at least in a way Baker might enjoy.
Pray for him.
"It's fixing to be payback for all those years, and I'm sure it's going to be twofold," Baker said. "For all those years I tortured him, I know he's going to get me.
"I know he's going to do a good job, even though I know he's about to kick my (butt)."
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com