I’ve been asked on numerous occasions in recent months to share an update on our family’s journey since our son’s skiing accident in late December 2019. As anyone who’s experienced trauma, tragedy and crisis knows, it encompasses more than I could ever write in a 600-word column.
I’m also mindful about sharing the story from my perspective as a mom and cheerleader. I believe Hunter is called to share his own story, in his own words, in his own time, which he does on social media from time to time and will do in speaking events at a few upcoming events.
I’m not one to sugarcoat my experience watching my child, even though he’s a college-football-size adult, cope with paralysis from the chest down. Every day, I want to trade places with him.
This summer, Hunter is attending physical therapy twice a week. He’s also working a summer engineering internship and taking six credits online.
Several evenings a week, I stretch Hunter’s legs and hips (we joke it’s like high school track meets when I used to stretch him out). As I go through the motions, I quietly pray for miraculous healing and for medical technology to advance to heal spinal cord and brain injuries for our son and for those we met at Craig Hospital in Colorado. I try not to dwell on what is not and instead focus on what is. I want to always share praise for what we have and find joy each and every day — which is something I thought was next to impossible amid upheaval and change six months ago.
After one of Hunter’s recent physical therapy appointments, we experienced joy in an ordinary day. When I asked if I could write about it, Hunter said, “How can you capture this one moment when there are 500 other positive examples too?” I cannot capture them all but let me share this one example.
Hunter had plans to meet with his tight end football coach in Grand Forks, N.D., where he’s been a member of the University of North Dakota football team for the past four years. I planned to work on my laptop in the car while he and his coach had lunch at Chick-fil-A. Hunter invited me to join them, so I agreed to walk in but order my lunch to go. After all, the two of us have had plenty of time together the past six months, and the one-on-one time with his coach was important.
Shortly after walking into the restaurant, an employee shouted Hunter’s name. Excitement ensued as the employee shared about following Hunter’s journey. As we walked outside to eat our lunch, I shared with Hunter about the winter fundraiser that the restaurant hosted in the weeks after his accident.
It wasn’t long before the same employee, Julie Haakenson, visited our table with an envelope in her hand. The cook in the kitchen reminded her there was additional money donated after the initial fundraiser had ended. She handed us the envelope of cash labeled “Hunter Pinke Fundraiser” they had saved in their vault. My sunglasses hid my tears.
I eventually did return to my car to work so Hunter and his coach could visit. During that time, Hunter spoke to Julie's children via Facetime and one of the children shared about writing a paper about Hunter. She joyfully reported she received an A+.
The last six months have brought a lot of changes for Hunter and our entire family — but even on the hardest of days, joy remains. As Hunter said, we’ve experienced hundreds of positive examples of love and support. On this day, it was a Chick-fil-A employee, Julie, and really an entire restaurant staff, who rallied around Hunter.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.