Commentary

An emotional homecoming for Kiwanuka

Giants defensive end reunites with his brother four months after near-fatal accident

Updated: September 19, 2010, 11:09 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- For weeks, Mathias Kiwanuka couldn't shake the horrific image from his head.

Anything and almost everything would trigger the traumatizing moment and even now, as the defensive end talks about it, he twitches his head a few times as if he were trying to snap out of a trance.

On a Friday afternoon in late May, Kiwanuka had just gotten into his hometown of Indianapolis after a long drive to visit his family during a break in the offseason.

He and his brother, Benedict, decided to hop on their motorcycles, run a few errands and grab a bite. After lunch, Kiwanuka was still tired from his drive. So Benedict, 32, wanted to make sure his little brother got back to their mother's house safe.

Since Benedict only lives about five minutes away from their mother's house, he decided to ride with Kiwanuka to make sure he got home.

"We passed his house where he lives but I had just gotten off the road and I was tired," Kiwanuka recalls. "They say most accidents happen close to home. We split the difference between his house and my mom's house where it happened."

With Benedict riding in front on Lafayette Road and only minutes away from reaching their mother's house, Kiwanuka watched helplessly as his brother crashed into another car pulling out of an apartment complex on Hunnewell Road. Benedict, who wasn't wearing a helmet, was thrown 100 feet by Indianapolis police's estimation.

Benedict suffered injuries to his pelvis, both of his arms and ankles. For the next 24 hours, Benedict fought for his life in a hospital in critical condition. His heart stopped at one point during surgery as doctors couldn't pinpoint where the internal bleeding was.

Now, just under four months later, Benedict has almost made a full recovery. He's nearly regained full function in his arm and while his pelvis is still healing, he is out of the hospital. Kiwanuka will be reunited with his brother and family as he returns to Indianapolis with the New York Giants for Sunday night's game against the Colts.

In many ways, a different Kiwanuka will return to Indianapolis.

Before the accident, some of Kiwanuka's biggest priorities were making sure he started at defensive end and playing only that position this season while trying to secure a new contract.

Those things still matter but not nearly as much. Just being back in Indianapolis serves as a reminder that so much has changed since that Friday afternoon.

"I think just as a human, whenever something like that happens, it kind of takes you outside of yourself," Kiwanuka, 27, said. "It makes you realize that maybe you are not the most important person in this world and what you do as a job isn't the most important thing in your life. It makes you reflect back on what is. What I came down to is God and my family.

"It really makes you appreciate everything," he continued. "The farther you get away from that, the harder it is to pull yourself back into that mode. But having a chance to go home and see my brother face to face I am sure will bring a lot of that stuff back."

[+] EnlargeMathias Kiwanuka
AP Photo/Andy KingMathias Kiwanuka has struggled at times dealing with memories of his brother Benedict's motorcycle accident in May.

Kiwanuka remembers everything -- every detail, every millisecond of the accident, every piece of debris flying through the air as if it were one of those super slow motion explosions from "The Matrix" or "Inception."

"It was weeks when anything would just trigger that memory and it was visible to anybody around me," Kiwanuka said as he jerked his head a few times and blinked hard. "I saw everything happen and when you are in moments like that, time really does slow down. Almost to a stop. You can see, feel and hear everything as if it is taking an hour to go. So, the moments leading up to the impact will forever be burned into my mind."

Kiwanuka couldn't talk about the details of the accident for legal purposes. The driver of the car involved in the accident suffered facial lacerations but was reported to be in good condition afterward. Indianapolis authorities said alcohol was not involved. Kiwanuka wasn't wearing a helmet either but state law doesn't require adults with permits to wear one.

Kiwanuka, who said he gave up riding his Honda CBR after that, was able to swerve in time and avoid physical harm. Mentally, the defensive end was shaken, badly.

"I don't think until we hit that 24-hour mark, we didn't have good news," Kiwanuka said. "The first 24 hours were really rough. He lost so much blood."

But his brother survived. Knowing that Benedict was going to be fine, Kiwanuka was able to get back to concentrating on football. Instead of focusing on what he wanted, which was to start ahead of Osi Umenyiora, Kiwanuka has done everything the Giants have asked of him. And that may be the most of any player on the team.

Kiwanuka, who has played linebacker and defensive end for the Giants since being drafted in 2006, has lined up at defensive end, linebacker and defensive tackle at times. In the Giants' 31-18 win over Carolina in Week 1, he was a surprise starter at linebacker. Kiwanuka not only helped the Giants limit the Carolina rushing attack to 89 yards but he had two sacks and one forced fumble.

He has become one of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's most versatile pieces.

"For me personally I might say, 'Hey Coach, listen, I can only learn so much in a three-day period,'" defensive captain Justin Tuck said. "But he goes about his business. That lets me know he is a team player and doesn't really care about how does this put more pressure on me. The more he does, the more this defense has a chance for success."

Sunday night, Kiwanuka will remember that Friday afternoon when he steps onto the field. But instead of being traumatized by the memory, he will breathe a sigh of relief and play for his brother and family.

"The fact that he is going to make a full recovery," he said, "makes it easy for me to relax and breathe when something like that comes back up."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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