Prosthesis enables SRJC coach to live out his dreams

Dalton Johnson, Contributing Writer

With his crisp uniform, Tom Francois looks like any baseball coach ready to go into battle with an opponent. He wears his number 42 jersey  in respect of the great Jackie Robinson, straightens his SRJC baseball cap and shouts words of encouragement to his players. What doesn’t meet the eye test is the fact that Francois is an amputee after having surgery to his right leg in 2001.
His prosthetic right leg is designed with stickers from his grand-daughter including a big San Francisco Giants sticker, an example that Francois has more spirit in a single prosthetic leg than most people have in their entire body.
A simple pain in the calf for Francois after a day of racquetball was much more complex than it appeared. After the usual icing and resting Francois saw a doctor who informed him his pedal pulse nerve in his foot could not be found. Clotting had occurred from his knee down, and the next seven months would result in 12 surgeries using cadaver veins, donor veins and synthetic veins. They all ended in failure.
A man full of adventure and optimism found himself in an unknown place. He popped vicodin like candy to ease the pain, he was in a wheelchair and found himself exhausted and depressed. That’s when he realized there was something more to his life.
“I prayed to Jesus to put me in the direction he wants. I didn’t ask him to save my leg, but I knew that there was more in life for me and I wanted him to show me the direction,” Francois said.
The time had come to permanently handle the pain of disappointing surgeries and finally amputate Francois’ right leg. After a night of prayer, the spiritual man woke up on March 25, 2001 with a calmness and peace he had never before experienced. An hour and a half later, he looked down and it was simply gone.
“I didn’t feel remorse, I didn’t feel regret, I felt relief. My goal was if I could walk with a cane for the rest of my life, I would be happy, because I was sick of that damn chair,” Francois said.
Francois received his first prosthetic leg on May 23, and right away Gene Paré, national and world champion racquetball player, invited him to play racquetball again. Francois had his doubts, but they would not stop him from trying. After weeks of practice he was back on the court and the duo beat able-bodied teams and won a state championship. This gave Francois confidence in his leg and his life.
Francois’ doctor had warned him of a lifelong limp if he didn’t do exercises and physical therapy.  Francois went to work. He strapped weights and telephone books on his stump and lifted them up, did side-to-side exercises and gradually he found himself becoming stronger.
What many would see as a disaster, Francois viewed as a blessing in his life. He credits his prosthetic leg for opening many doors for him, changing his life forever. One may lose an arm or a leg, but Francois notices that an amputated soul is the worst thing to lose.
“Through hard work and perseverance, anything can happen. You can move mountains if you put your mind to it,” Francois said.
One door that opened for Francois would have been an historical and honorable event for any man or woman from the United States. While working security at the Xilinx company, Francois was nominated to hold the Olympic torch during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Francois was baffled, but honored that his co-workers felt that he exemplified the Olympic spirit and was one of 200,000 nominees looking to be one of  11,500 torch holders. He beat the odds and two months later he was notified he would be representing the Olympic spirit. Francois began training vigorously to walk the entire way without a wheelchair or any additional help.
“Light the Fire Within.” That is what the torch read and Francois holds those words true to his heart and could only compare carrying the torch to the birth of his children. Simply put, pure magic. The doors flew wide open for Francois after this magical moment.
He was asked to speak to schools and organizations, and was influenced to tackle the adventure of speaking in jails and prisons. He found himself contacting every organization that could help his cause. Francois’ wife Carol figured he could be “a hole in their calendars to fill.” Francois knew Carol was right and ultimately knew he belonged in the schools and the prisons.
“Let me touch one, God,” Francois prays to his Lord and savior while he sits inside his truck before every visit to a prison or jail. Francois recalls an eye-opening experience his first Christmas here in Santa Rosa while handing out food at St. Rose Church. A man named David recently released from jail found himself in the real world in need of aid and asked Francois to meet his family.
With tears rolling out of his eyes, Francois recollects how he was honored as David said, “This is the man that brought me to the Lord.” Francois simply let David know that he and the Holy Spirit had done that, and he was just the Lord’s messenger.
After a life full of adventures and careers, Francois is now living his dream as a baseball coach. He worked in the meat business for 38 years, was also a police officer in the town of Campbell for 33 years and even hosted a TV show titled “What’s Cookin’” for 20 years.  However, he always wanted to coach baseball.
Francois admits he was no super-star baseball player as a youth, but he always had a passion for baseball. When he arrived in Santa Rosa a few years ago, a door for coaching baseball opened when he met a Montgomery High School football coach at the gym. He met the school’s athletic director and was immediately hired. Francois has now coached high school baseball, travel baseball and SRJC baseball.
He can be seen sitting in the Bailey Field dugout with a smile on his face and a pencil in his hand as he diligently records all the statistics for the Bear Cub’s baseball team. Francois can work up to three hours on his stats, breaking them down in everyway possible and he takes this process quite serious.
“Tom’s statistical record keeping is an invaluable part of SRJC baseball. His detailed statistical record keeping enables me, as the head coach, to post statistics that support my decisions about who is playing and who is not playing and why,” SRJC head baseball coach Damon Neidlinger said.
The players witness Francois’ smile and laughter on the field and cannot help to crack a smile too. “I see a man who is filled with joy, loves God and brings happiness to everyone around him,” SRJC shortstop Nick Rodda said.
The Bear Cubs are now a part of his family and Francois even calls the players his “30 other grandchildren.”
Francois has experienced many of life’s adventures and understands his adventure will never stop. “Live simply, speak kindly, love generously and leave the rest to God,” Francois said.