Back from the brink: Soccer player returns to playing field


Pima Community College men’s soccer player Declan Fulton cheated death a year ago after a hiking trip turned awry.

Fulton and a few friends were hiking the Tanque Verde Falls in Sabino Canyon in late August 2010. They spotted waterfalls and started to jump from above into a big pool of water.

Further downstream, another waterfall spilled over a ledge. That waterfall dropped 50 feet drop into a pool that was no deeper than 10 feet. After a shouted conversation with people below the falls, Fulton decided to slide down the ledge into a closer pool of water.

“I went to grab my friend’s hand and slipped,” Fulton said. “I knew I was going to fall, so I just threw myself off anyway. That saved my life because I would have landed on the rock at the bottom.”

The people below witnessed the fall and pulled Fulton into the shade. An off-duty paramedic who happened to be nearby helped him until a helicopter arrived.

“I remember hearing the helicopter come and I had to get airlifted out of there,” Fulton said. “Apparently it took two hours to get to the hospital.”

His parents, who live in Sierra Vista, met him at the hospital. Fulton had broken his pelvis, his elbow, a vertebrae in his back and some teeth, and punctured a lung.

His head would have suffered much more damage if he hadn’t covered it with his elbow.

“My elbow pretty much took the full impact of the fall,” Fulton said.

The following morning, Fulton woke up with his hands attached to the hospital bed. He had just one worry.

“I was trying to ask everyone, would I be able to play again,” he said.

After multiple surgeries, he finally got the answer he wanted. He could play soccer again despite having initial surgery on his elbow and a seven-hour pelvis surgery.

Fulton was in a wheelchair for almost three months and had in-house rehabilitation treatment.

“He’s a good kid, a very resilient kid,” men’s soccer head coach David Cosgrove said. “It’s truly remarkable.”

Fulton moved to Sierra Vista while recovering from his injuries.

“I was living in a house with stairs, so I moved back in with my family for the rest of the year,” he said.

While rehabbing, he started walking again. He also began playing soccer with friends, but was in pain while playing.

“I was trying to do too much, so I just gave it some time while I was in a men’s league,” he said. “I was starting to get some speed back and picked up the game back.”

It was “kind of a wakeup call” when he returned to Tucson for preseason training with his Pima team.

“Everyone was in better shape than I was,” he said. “I was behind everything.”

Declan Fulton makes his 10th appearance after last year's hiking accident. Aztec Press photo by Larry Gaurano.


Fulton and Cosgrove agree that he isn’t back to 100 percent yet but has made significant strides in improving his game.

“Everyone knows that I’ve still got what it takes and it’s just going to take time for it to come back,” Fulton said.

“It’s amazing, he went from being in a wheelchair to scoring goals,” teammate Jordan Benson said.

Cosgrove is grateful to have Fulton back in the lineup.

“He’s getting better and better and considering where he was about this time last year, it’s a remarkable story,” Cosgrove said. “He does play every game and he logs significant time. He is a key component of the team right now.”

Fulton is currently the Pima men’s top scorer, with more than six goals and four assists.

“Declan is scoring the most goals and playing the best for us,” Cosgrove said.

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