Josh Harrielal is quick to show off his mangled right hand, the one with the index and middle finger gone down to the knuckle.
He doesn’t try to hide it. And by now, it’s more a source of pride, maybe even a source of strength.
It represents an absurdly dark period in his life.
But he won.
There is even a sense of defiance in his voice as he recalls the worst parts of losing two fingers in February.
Harrielal is, in fact, deyfing the odds just by his presence on the Haddon Heights football team. And he’s proud of it.
“It was a minor setback,” he said. “for a major comeback.”
Last year, Harrielal was a wide receiver for the Garnets — back when he still had 10 whole fingers. This year, he is a star running back, a minor adjustment that ended up being a great fit.
He completed a halfback pass — with his right hand — in Saturday’s win over Deptford. He had three receptions in that game and two touchdowns.
And he’s a leader on a team that, at 2-3, has already matched its win total from last year.
After that Deptford game, Harrielal showed off the custom-made glove that he wears when he plays football. A local tailor altered two fingers on the glove to fit his hand.
But that, too, was just another one of those minor adjustments.
All part of his major comeback.
“He’s battled through so much,” said Haddon Heights coach Chris Lina. “All you can say is that he’s just an incredibly tough kid. And he’s still one of our best players.”
Back in February, while working at a bakery, Harrielal was loading wooden boards onto an electric bread machine when the machine malfunctioned, and his fingers were caught in the gears of the machine.
The top part of his middle finger was lost right there, on the spot. His index finger, cut down to the bone, had to be amputated down to the knuckle.
What followed was a confusing and frustrating period — an unfair stretch of time for a player who was supposed to be preparing for his senior season with the Garnets.
Instead, Harrielal faced surgery and a painful and uncertain rehab process.
There was even a two-week stretch when Harrielal had what was left of his right index finger sown into his right groin so the cells and tissues in his leg could help regenerate the top of his finger.
He walked around for two weeks with his hand sown to his leg.
It sounds like a cruel joke.
But Harrielal doesn’t look back and lament, as he would have every right to do at this point. Rather, he looks back with pride.
He was faced with a choice. Accept his limitations and forget about football or choose that defiant attitude, try to take on something that, at the time, didn’t seem possible.
“I was really mad at first. I thought my season was over. Really, I thought everything was over for me at first,” he said. “But my family was there. My friends were there. My team was there. Everyone made me feel comfortable when I came back to school.”
With support around him, Harrielal was back in the gym by the spring. And was ready for the first game of the season.
Now, he said he doesn’t think about the injury and doesn’t have any lingering pain. That’s a minor miracle in itself.
What he’s left with are lessons learned, lessons that he’ll take with him through every stage of life and be carried with him every day.