'Where my heart is': How two DHS alumni shared the hunt of a lifetime
As cancer survivors, two local hunters share their story.
GRASSY BUTTE, N.D. — Logan Kostelecky, 24, and Lauren Jorda, 21, are both graduates of Dickinson High School who survived cancer at a young age. With support from the Outdoor Adventure Foundation, Kostelecky recently guided Jorda on a successful elk hunt at his ranch in Grassy Butte.
The Outdoor Adventure Foundation is a charity based in Fargo. They organize trips for young people with cancer and other illnesses, as well as wounded veterans.
Kostelecky’s battle with cancer began in the spring of 2013 when he was 15, a freshman at DHS. He first noticed his symptoms while helping his father during calving season on their ranch in Grassy Butte, which is where he still spends most of his time working.
“The farm and ranch is where my heart is,” Kostelecky said. “One day, I had a cow I had to get in the barn. She’d just had her calf, so I had to pick the calf up and I cramped real bad in my right shoulder."
Kostelecky brushed it off as a typical ache that sometimes results from manual labor, but the pain persisted for three weeks. His chiropractor recommended seeing a doctor, which he did.
“Right here in Dickinson, I got the news that I have a mass the size of a softball inside my liver, and that was all they had told me for now. So I was like alright, what are options?” he recalled.
However, local doctors couldn’t diagnose the problem, and he was advised to seek further attention at one of the higher level medical centers in the region. He talked with his parents about it and scheduled an appointment for the following month in Rochester, Minnesota.
“So I’m just living life and whatever. One night I decided to go to a high school baseball game here in town on a spring evening, it was kind of cold. I got chilled to the bone, like borderline hypothermic. It just didn’t make sense how cold I got from that weather,” Kostelecky said. “The next morning mom and dad looked at me like, ‘There’s something seriously wrong with you.’ My eyes were sunk in, I just looked like hell froze over.”
His parents decided to take him to Rochester immediately, which was further complicated as the city was covered with 18 inches of snow the next morning. After a week of various tests, scans and examinations, he was diagnosed with germ cell testicular cancer. Kostelecky endured three rounds of chemotherapy in the summer of 2013.
“It’s a rapidly spreading and fast growing cancer, which is not ideal,” he said.
He had a few intense surgeries in which over half of his liver, 42 lymph nodes and eight spots from his lungs were removed. This form of cancer has a high rate of resurgence so he had two rounds of preventative chemotherapy. Kostelesky said he feels lucky.
“We caught it right on that brink if it becoming something much worse… so I’m grateful for that,” he said, adding he’s been cancer-free for eight years. “Some time in the spring of 2014, they gave me the news that I’m clean. I’m healthy again. It was around that time that I got hooked up with the Outdoor Adventure Foundation, and I’ve basically been living life ever since. It was good.”
Kostelecky received an overwhelming amount of support from the entire community during that difficult time, he said.
“In a lot of ways it was a blessing because of the support in Dickinson. I can never repay or say what should truly be said about it,” he said. “Dickinson is just a great community.”
An avid outdoorsman, the foundation took him on an antelope hunt near Bowman, a mule deer hunt in Montana and moose hunt outside of Minot. Kostelecky filled all three tags. He even shot a mountain lion recently on a foundation hunt in Utah.
“I got to know the president of the foundation, Brian Solum, a little bit and the cameraman Dave Lipp. I just kind of hit it off with those guys,” he said.
Giving back in the Badlands
After becoming well acquainted with members of the foundation, Kostelecky and his father decided they wanted to give back by hosting elk hunts on their ranch for young people who’ve battled cancer and other serious conditions. He said their neighbors have been generous and provide him access to their land for foundation hunts.
This fall was the seventh year they’ve done it, and harvested an elk every time. Still, he said it’s about more than just the kill. He loves providing people with the thrill of a big game pursuit and a rugged experience in the great outdoors. There’s nothing quite like passing the joy of his passion to someone else, he said.
“The hunt, being successful is great and all; but just to get out in the Badlands, breathe fresh air and enjoy it — that’s what it’s really about,” he said. “It’s the hunt I look forward to the most every year.”
He said not enough young people get to experience the outdoors and he’s happy to have the opportunity through such an awesome foundation.
In the fall of 2021, the foundation hunt he guided was particularly special because it was with a family friend and fellow DHS alumna, Lauren Jorda. She endured a six-month struggle during her senior year of high school, with multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgery. She was declared cancer-free in March of 2019.
“I was best friends with his (Kostelecky's) younger sister Emily since about first grade, we’re still good friends,” Jorda said. “We all kind of hung out together so I know their family really well.”
Now, at 21, Jorda is a junior at the University of North Dakota, where she’s majoring in pre-med biology to prepare for medical school.
Prior to the elk hunt, Jorda only had a minimal amount of bird hunting and target shooting experience. But after hunting with Kostelecky, Jorda said it calmed her nerves being guided by someone she knew.
The first night of hunting they didn’t see much but woke up at 4 a.m. to head back out the next day. Kostelecky said they walked about a mile in while it was still pitch black.
“So we start marching down this hill. About halfway down, it's dry since it’s October and there hadn’t been rain yet. Every step we're making is sticks crunching, leaves crunching. And it's impossible to be quiet,” he said. “Pretty soon the sun starts coming up just a little bit and the elk explode around us. There's bugling in all directions. And we're basically in the middle of the herd, you can hear their footprints. I think they were hearing ours but didn't quite know what we were.”
They marched for about 20 minutes in a direction he thought would provide a good shot at a bull, who was with a group of five or six cows that spooked west. The bull ran in the opposite direction, nixing their opportunity.
“So I’m standing around going, wow, that might have been our opportunity for the morning,” he said. “Lauren taps my shoulder, (and says,) 'Hey, there’s an elk right there.'”
It was a cow about 250 yards in front of them, and he anticipated a bull would be following her. So they moved 15 to 20 yards up to get in a better position. He told Lauren he would hit his cow call to stop the bull so it would stand broadside, and that he would tell her to shoot when she was ready. He used his cow call multiple times to no avail.
“He wasn’t stopping for us. All of sudden Lauren shoots and it totally caught me off guard, but I heard aloud whack. I knew she hit him,” Kostelecky said. “This bull’s running through the trees. I get my binoculars on him and pretty soon I see he’s hit really well. She made an awesome shot.”
Jorda said it was a wonderful experience and a lot of fun.
“I just want to express how grateful I am. The foundation, everyone that helped put it on, donors, the Kostelecky family, those who let me hunt on their land and everything; I know it wouldn't be possible without them,” she added.