Times have been tough for the Emsley family of Warminster, Pennsylvania. Three years ago, dad Bill suffered a freak infection that forced the amputation of his right leg beneath the knee. And last August his 18-year-old son, Bryce, broke his ankle and foot during the first week of high school football training camp, shattering his dreams of playing college ball.
That’s the backstory behind the father-son bear hug that’s burning up social media and has inspired almost 6,000 Facebook shares as of Wednesday. The photo, taken on the sidelines after Bryce rehabbed his way back onto the field and helped teammates score a touchdown, has tugged heartstrings of people as far away as the Netherlands.
Kelly Ross-Emsley, the mom, posted the image on Facebook on November 7 after a friend photographed the embrace minutes after the game ended and the crowd cheered Bryce’s courage and contribution to the game, which his team ultimately lost to Central Bucks West High School, 35 to 6.
The image of her hulking, too-cool-for-school football player tearfully clutching his dad who wears a prosthetic leg, “brings tears to people’s eyes,” Kelly, 38, tells Yahoo Parenting. “People are so happy to see that kind of emotion between a father and son.”
It wasn’t always that way. Until 2013, Bill and Bryce had a typical working father and hormone-addled teenager relationship, arguing about chores and curfews. Then Bill cut his foot during a Puerto Rico vacation and contracted a MRSA infection that started a health downslide which included the amputation, four more surgeries and pneumonia so bad doctors feared he wouldn’t recover.
Throughout Bill’s ordeal, his 350-pound son stood by his side.
“After the amputation, I got home and couldn’t make my way into the house,” Bill tells Yahoo Parenting. “I just sat on the steps and cried thinking my life was over. Then Bryce picked me up and carried me into the house. He said, ‘We’ll figure out what’s next.’”
What came next was Bryce’s injury last August three days after he was named captain of William Tennent High School’s football team. Doctors said Bryce’s injury couldn’t take the stress of his size and field position blocking for running backs. He’d never play again, they said. But, like his dad, Bryce never gave up, exercising longer and harder than he should, rehabbing the foot that doctors fused to his ankle during surgery.
“I kept pushing to see how far I could go,” Bryce tells Yahoo Parenting.
Bryce went all the way. On Thursday, doctors told him that he could play in Friday’s game, the final contest of the season and Bryce’s football career. He played three quarters before his limp forced the coach to take him out.
“I followed the coach up and down the sidelines, asking him to let me back in,” Bryce said. “In the last four minutes, he put me in. And we scored! It was the best feeling, knowing that I was able to help score that one last time.”
Bryce, who has worked since middle school to earn a football scholarship, now plans to study exercise physiology in college. His parents couldn’t be prouder of their son and of their nothing-beats-us family, which also includes Blake, 12, who’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Brynn,10.
“I may be a little biased but I think this is the kind of picture that should go viral on the internet,” Kelly wrote on her Facebook post. “Instead of videos of kids beating on each other, or girls showing everything their mama’s gave them. Let’s spread what real LOVE is!”
(Photo: Kelly Ross-Emsley/Facebook)