Joseph Bello thought he was just going to watch Colin Kaepernick speak at the 21st annual Turlock Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast on Friday morning.
Bello, 17, was shocked when the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who graduated from Pitman High School in Turlock, came over to talk to him one on one.
“For him to come up to me, seeking me out, that was awesome,” Bello said. “He came up and we had a conversation. It wasn’t like he just came up to me and said, ‘Hi.’ He asked how I was doing. I told him it was really good to be home. I told him about a new rehab program I’m starting next week. He seemed really happy for me.”
Bello was a little apprehensive about being in a room with 900 people at the Larsa Banquet Hall. For him it was much different than playing linebacker for the Hilmar High football team in front of a couple thousand people on Friday nights.
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This was the first time he’s been around a crowd since he’s been confined to a wheelchair after an all-terrain vehicle accident Feb. 15 left him without feeling or movement from the chest down.
Bello was injured while vacationing with his family at Pismo Beach. He was riding his quad bike at the Oceano Dunes State Recreation Area when he was flipped off the vehicle while coming down a hill. The vehicle landed on top of him, fracturing two vertebrae.
Bello was flown to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. He underwent surgery on Feb. 18 to fuse the two fractured vertebrae.
Bello has spent the past two months at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center before being released April 26.
“There were about 40 of his classmates waiting for him when he got home last Saturday to surprise him,” said Hilmar High football coach Frank Marques. “They gave him a welcome home reception.”
It was Marques who approached Kaepernick prior to the event to ask him to speak with Bello.
“He said absolutely,” Marques said. “We had actually reached out to his contacts and we were going to set up Kaepernick to visit Joseph in Santa Clara if he had stayed in the hospital longer. But since he was going to be in Turlock, we were able to have him meet him there.”
“It was loud in there so I couldn’t hear everything Kaepernick said to Joe,” Marques added. “But I did hear him say, ‘Keep working hard. Don’t give up. You can overcome this.’ ”
Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky, who served as the emcee of the event, also had some encouraging words for Bello. Dravecky lost his left arm to cancer.
“He was really a positive guy,” Bello said. “He knew somewhat what I was going through. He said when he had cancer and lost his arm, it really was a humbling experience. My experience has been very humbling.”
Being back at home has been great for Bello.
“I’ve had my days,” he said. “Some days have been harder than others, but I’ve had a lot of support. My family has always been there and I’ve had a lot of people come visit me. It’s helped me stay positive. Just being home and out of the hospital has been awesome. It’s helped my outlook and my mood. I’m feeling a lot better. The hospital isn’t always the most positive place to be.”
A chance to meet the Kaepernick – the quarterback from his favorite NFL team – isn’t something Bello is going to forget.
“That was a big surprise,” Bello said. “It was really cool. For me, I think that just shows he’s a great person. He had people falling him around and he was able to shut all of that out and talk to me one on one. That really meant a lot to me.”