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After Las Vegas shooting, UNLV Rebels coach looking forward

The scar begins at his left collarbone and runs toward the chest, where it crosses under his sternum and around toward the back.

It’s shaped like the letter C.

There is also a permanent mark from where the bullet entered, barely missing a lung and instead burying itself in the latissimus dorsi muscle, which surgeons discovered after opening him up and meticulously searching through the damage.

Follow the Review Journal Coverage of Oct. 1 Anniversary
Follow the Review Journal Coverage of Oct. 1 Anniversary

There was no exit wound. It was in there somewhere.

Nick Robone has the terror replayed each day in the mirror, the result of those 70 staples used to close the vast wound, a harsh and yet motivational reminder about what happened and how he refuses to let it define him.

“It’s something I see every morning, but I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “It reminds me that life is short and you need to cherish it.”

It’s not as if he blinked and a year passed, although that’s how he feels, and now life as Robone treasures has returned to its conventional ways.

The assistant hockey coach at UNLV is back on ice tutoring the Rebels.

Scars are also about healing.

He believes that which happens is meant to be. That destiny plays a starring role. So he doesn’t question attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival last Oct. 1, doesn’t believe he should have left his recreation hockey league game and simply went home, doesn’t regret agreeing to meet his younger brother and friends to watch country star Jason Aldean perform.

When a bullet penetrates your body, when your flesh absorbs the momentum, when major organs and blood vessels are put at risk as tissue is crushed and forced apart, when a massive cavity is formed, fate ultimately decides the severity of your injuries.

Whether you are badly hurt or escape with manageable to little harm.

Whether, often, you live or die.

In this manner, fortune smiled on Robone, the bullet’s trajectory turning away from his heart by inches.

“If it hits there,” he said, “I’m dead.”

A city unites

The calamity of a mass shooting in which 58 perished and more than 700 were injured from bullets sprayed across festival grounds from a suite at Mandalay Bay is not lost on Robone, but even now, recalling the instant he realized he had been shot, blood pouring from his nose and mouth, his brother the firefighter immediately assessing the situation and how best to carry Nick to a safer location, there is a sense of perspective.

An awareness of how such tragedy, even when you are one of those most affected, can unite.

“It was an unfortunate event that happened, but it only made me stronger as a person mentally and made me aware how awesome this community is, how much I want to give back,” Robone said. “It’s unfortunate something like this had to occur to see the community come together, but at the same time, it was a beautiful thing.

“I don’t sweat small stuff. I know it’s a cliche, but you never know what can happen when you walk out those doors. I’m going to live life to the fullest and be a good human being, because when you’re gone, the only thing that matters is what you did for others and how you made people feel.”

He hasn’t read much about the shooter. Maybe a few stories. A graduate of Centennial High and UNLV who earned his master’s in athletic administration and sports marketing from Western Kentucky, Robone is 28 and doesn’t think it is worth his or anyone’s time to educate themselves about a person for whom no one will ever truly understand those motives that led to such an unforgettable moment in time.

Instead, amazingly, incredibly, perhaps incomprehensibly, he gives thanks.

For his brother, Anthony, and dear friend, Billy Tufano, who led him away from the scene and were with him until the ambulance arrived.

For a thoracic surgeon like Dr. Arnold Chung, because in a world where sports stars and Hollywood celebrities are idolized and placed upon unreachable pedestals, well, if you’re looking for a real hero, try the guy who decides your injuries to be the next worst after those lying near you on gurneys, shot in the head and heart, have passed.

The guy who sees your chest has ballooned to three times its normal size and is a portrait of black and blue and that your blood pressure has dropped to life-threatening levels and your chances at surviving seem to be circling the drain.

The guy who then opens you up and goes searching for that bullet.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, whose inspiring NHL expansion season and run to a Stanley Cup Final was better than any medication or physical therapy in helping Robone heal.

For their coaches and players befriending him.

For the city in which he was born and raised, the outpouring of care and support from family and friends to UNLV players and staff to complete strangers.

“I don’t know where I would be if he hadn’t made it,” said Anthony Robone, a 26-year-old firefighter in Henderson. “I can’t imagine how those who lost loved ones feel. I had to pronounce two people dead at the scene. A person next to me got shot in the head. The thought of losing my brother … those three hours he was in surgery were just gut-wrenching for my parents and me. Sometimes, it still feels like yesterday. I’m just so happy he’s alive.”

Keeping the faith

The descriptions vary about what it feels like to be shot. Wet. Numb. Stinging. Dull. Electric. Hot. Blinding pain. Robone wasn’t even sure it happened until he felt blood in his mouth.

And, you know, that large hole in his chest.

In our deepest, darkest times, faith is often the strength by which we survive. It’s what Robone leaned on when, one arm draped around his brother and the other his friend, he ran-walked away from the sound of more bullets, when he waited for a second ambulance because the first one took those in even worse shape, when he awoke from an induced coma two days later and began the long, painful, grueling process of recovery.

“I believe there is definitely a higher power and everything happens for a reason and the universe works in mysterious ways, that there definitely is a God and He was looking over me that night,” Robone said. “Things happen in life people can’t control.

“(Being angry) isn’t worth it. I’m not going to lie — I was definitely angry the first few days. You’re upset and frustrated. But at the same time, I realized it was a setback and when you get through it, you’re only going to be tougher.

“I can’t believe it has been a year. It has blown by. A lot of it was recovery and then after that, moving forward. It’s important to remember. This isn’t something you want to necessarily forget, but you definitely want to find a way to move forward.”

The scar won’t let him forget.

He sees it each morning.

It just won’t ever define him.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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