The term “scarred for life” has a far different meaning to Beck Wheeler than the colloquial expression it is typically used for.
It has a literal meaning to him that sucked away a lot of his promise the same day he was sucked under a boat. And, all he wanted to do was cool off.
Out in an ocean bay near his home in San Diego not long after graduating from St. Augustine High School, Wheeler was with a group of friends doing what most recent grads do – goofing off, having fun, enjoying life and living in the moment.
Wheeler jumped in to the bay for one final dip in the Pacific as the sun started to go down. With the music on the boat louder than his shouts, no one heard Wheeler scream when the boat’s driver fired up the engines. No one had thought to look when Wheeler couldn’t pull down the boat’s ladder.
The boat flew into reverse and Wheeler was sucked under, his right leg first hitting the propeller and then his left.
“I remember pushing against the boat and using my arms as best as I could,” Wheeler recalls some four years later. “I looked at my leg and there was blood everywhere.”
A wide receiver on St. Augustine’s CIF championship team as a junior, Wheeler’s most important asset was gone in a matter of seconds.
“I used to be fast,” he says. “I just lost it all.”
Two signs of fortune, however, where on Wheeler’s side during the life-altering event.
One of the people on the boat was an Emergency Medical Technician and he jumped in – clothes and all – to help Wheeler. Once Wheeler was brought back on the boat the EMT was directing orders and keeping everyone as calm as best as possible. He was, essentially, saving Wheeler’s legs.
The other twist of fate was that a boating accident had occurred not long before and there were already police and other emergency technicians near the launch ramp. So once Wheeler was brought back to shore, he already had a group of people there to help.
After two hours of tests at the hospital and five hours of surgery, Wheeler woke up.
“I didn’t really remember what happened,” he said. “Then I felt my legs and made sure they were still there.”
Eighty-four staples and three stitches held together eight deep lacerations on both of his legs.
He didn’t get out of bed for the entire week he was in the hospital. It took three weeks for Wheeler to even begin walking with the aid of a walker. An 18-year-old looking more like an 80-year-old.
Summer was closing fast by this point and Wheeler had a scholarship to play baseball at Pacific.
“I went up there and could barely run around the bases,” he says. “I can run faster backwards right now.”
Planning on redshirting, Wheeler was needed on the field because some of the other shortstops were not giving the Tigers the necessary production.
“I started three games and played in four,” he said. “After those four games it was evident I couldn’t play at the full level – especially as a freshman in Division 1 baseball coming off an injury like that. It was pretty tough.”
Disappointed that he burned a redshirt year and disheartened about his experience in Stockton, Wheeler looked into transferring immediately once spring classes were completed.
“I played all fall and they didn’t know about my injuries, so I felt that was good not having them evaluate me any different than anyone else,” Wheeler said.
A year at Orange Coast College literally got Wheeler’s legs back underneath him before he transferred to UCSB. In his first season in the blue and gold he was the Gauchos’ primary designated hitter, batting .297 while also providing infield depth.
As a senior he was more like a Swiss army knife – playing shortstop, third base, designated hitter and he made his collegiate debut on the mound.
A low-90s fastball and a right arm with nearly no wear and tear secured him a free agent contract with the New York Mets after his senior season. After his summer ends, Wheeler will return to UCSB to finish up his degree in business economics.
But, for someone who loves being in the water, his feelings have changed a bit about getting back on a boat.
“I’ve been one a boat twice since then,” he said. “I’m a little hesitant.”
Beach activities. Body boarding, body surfing. Ocean sports. Pick-up basketball games. Snowboarding, traveling.
2. If you were on a deserted island could only bring 3 things, what would they be?
I'd bring my iPad. I’d be set with just an ipad.
3. What's your favorite class you’ve taken at UCSB?
Jim Romeo’s current issues in sport management class. There are a lot of relevant topics dealing with intercollegiate athletics.
4. Do you have any role models?
My dad because I see how hard-working he is and he’s taught me a lot and he’s shown me his love for sports growing up. He emphasized that playing baseball will not be around my entire life, so getting a good education and working hard.
The ocean breeze and the ocean smell. And the sun rises when we’re going to weights at 7 am.
6. What’s your favorite TV show?
Eastbound and Down and Entourage. Because they’re entertaining and they have good actors.
7. What will you miss most about UCSB after you graduate?
All the friends that I’ve met, whether in the Athletic Department or the Greek system or normal students in my classes; always going places and recognizing people whether you’re getting lunch or are in the library.
8. What actor would play you in a movie about your life?
9. What’s your favorite sports teams?
The San Diego padres, Milwaukee Brewers and the San Diego Chargers.
I always put my left sock, then right sock, left shoe, right shoe. And then drink a cup of coffee.
11. Who is your favorite musical artist or band?
T-Pain and Akon and Lil Wayne.
12. What’s your favorite spot on campus?
I like getting lunch at the UCen because you’ve got the lagoon right there and there’s always a lot of people and activities going on.
13. What’s your favorite sport to watch at UCSB other than your own?
Men’s basketball and men’s volleyball because you can be up front in the first couple of rows and men’s volleyball is cool because you can heckle the other teams a lot.
A: Whistler, British Columbia. There are two huge mountains and I like snowboarding. I like the atmosphere in town.
15. What is one thing about you people don’t know?
All I can really paint are sunsets, but I do a darn good job of painting a sunset over the ocean. My grandma, she was a really good water painter and when I spent time with her when I was little we would paint and I took a couple painting classes in high school and now I do it for fun.
16. Is there a motto that you live by?
No pain, no gain.
17. In one word how would you describe UCSB baseball?
18. What are your goals once baseball is over?
Work in the front office of a professional sports team, hopefully baseball.
A: An Extraordinary Example About How to Overcome the Obstacles of Life.
20. How did it become that you go by your middle name, Beck?
It was my grandma’s maiden name and my parents always wanted my name to be Beck and it sounded better to be Jeffrey Beck Wheeler instead of Beck Jeffrey Wheeler.