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Willmar notebook: A triathlete's crash course

Jack Unger, one year out of high school, was competing in his first triathlon individually in mid-August last year.

Unger had competed in four or five Green Lake Triathlons as a swimmer on a relay. This time he was gung-ho to do the Sprint course individually.

He came out of the water in the top 15, made a speedy transition to his road bike in the Saulsbury Beach parking lot and began the 12-mile clockwise loop of the lake. His plan was to pedal hard as he could, though he'd likely wilt in the last miles.

He was about two miles out when he crashed into an oncoming car on Skyline Drive.

"I just remember going down the road and there was a guy in front not turning as sharp as I wanted to turn," said Unger this week from Minneapolis where he is a sophomore in the University's Carlson School of Business.

Unger was coming off the one-way portion of the north lake road where it is up against the lake and then takes a rather sharp bend as it becomes a road with houses on each side. He estimates he was traveling 24 mph when he collided head-on with the car coming in the opposite direction.

"There was no time to react. My only thought was to try and fly over the car," he said. "Obviously, that didn't quite work out."

Unger's left knee hit the grill, probably a headlight, and his face implanted on the windshield. He went into shock protecting him from the pain of his injuries.

"At first, I just felt a little stiff and I wanted to get back on the bike and finish the race. Then I looked at my knee and I knew that wasn't going to happen." The pain didn't come on until the ambulance reached hospital in Willmar.

His nose was broken and he sustained lacerations on his face and shoulder. His helmet saved him from a more serious, even fatal, head injury.

The knee was ripped open, revealing kneecap and patella tendon. He recalls the operations needed "over 100 stitches over four layers" of flesh to patch things up.

Crippled, he returned to college in September.

He has just finished 4½ months of rehabilitation at a clinic near campus. After crutches, he wore several different braces, shucking the last one in November.

"I just started jogging," he said. "Surprisingly, it's oddly difficult to get back the motion of running."

For now, he only runs indoors or on a treadmill to avoid a slip on icy streets or sidewalks.

Unger, 20, competed in basketball through 10th grade and in swimming the next two years. He looks forward to another triathlon.

Younger brother, Jimmy, is the leading scorer on this year's basketball team. "I can't take any credit for his shot," said Jack. "We played driveway basketball but he's the one who worked very hard on his shot."

Jack's accident is the most serious bike incident this reporter can recall in all the years of the Fun in the Sun and now the Green Lake. But that turn with its three-way intersection does have limited visibility and present a danger for racers. Perhaps, additional safety measures are needed there.

Perhaps of interest: When I first reached Jack on his cell phone Tuesday evening to set up an interview, there was a lot of commotion in the background. I asked him the next day where he had been? "I was at the Timberwolves game against the Bulls. College students can get a ticket for only $5 and there's a free bus. You can't beat that, even if the seats are up high. The place was packed. It's the most enthusiasm I've seen in the place since the 2004 season when they went to the Western Conference playoffs."

Alumni hockey

The Willmar Alumni Hockey Benefit raised $4,065.25 for the Reynolds family. The first alumni game was in memory of former Cardinal Stephen Reynolds, who passed away Nov. 29 at age 20. Organizers plan to make the holiday game an annual event and open it up to all alumni with a girls game at 5 p.m. and boys at 7 p.m. next Dec. 29, a Saturday. Goal scorers in the first Red & White game were Travis Hanson, Griffin Leitch, Rory Schneider (2), Landon Peterson, Liam Johnson and Brian Klein. Red won 5-2. In goal, Red's Jon Mattison made 34 saves and White's Keifer Dahle 36.

On the fly

- Shantel Kelly, in her first year at Ridgewater College, is the third leading scorer in the MIAC South Division after the Lady Warriors' 12-game pre-division schedule. In 12 games, she averaged 16.6 ppg and made 12 of 31 three-point attempts. She's also third in free-throw percentage (.738) by making 59 of 80 attempts.

- Through Tuesday, sophomore center Alexandra Lippert is averaging 11.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg with 34 blocks for the Concordia College Cobbers (5-3 MIAC, 7-4).

- Bonnie Henrickson's Kansas Jayhawks were 1-1 (12-2 overall) going into last night's home game with Big 12 rival Iowa State in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are at Missouri on Sunday. Kansas won its Big 12 opener beating No. 22 Texas 56-47 on Jan. 4. The pre-season included wins over Wake Forest and Wisconsin; the lone loss was to Alabama. Henrickson was co-captain and MVP on the 1980-81 Cardinal team coached by Lynn Peterson that finished 10-11. Bonnie's twin sister Barbara was voted "Most Improved" and the "Best Defensive Player" award was shared by Kelly Overman and Rachael Rekedal.

- The Cardinals' junior forward Hunter Schneider ranks among the top 5 in Section 6A in points with 12 goals and 15 assists for 27 points through Tuesday. Goalie Derek Baker is fifth in save percentage at 89.5 percent starting the week.

- Sixty years ago this week, the Cardinals beat Benson 54-28 but lost 56-45 to Sauk Centre in the West Central Conference. Coached by Ace Hoberg with assistant coaches Bob Lehman and Lloyd Lehn, Willmar was on its way to an 18-5 season (losing to Atwater 47-46 in the District 20 final) while putting down the foundation for their state tournament run two years later. Roy Nelson, Ralph Howell, Bob Anderstrom, Francis Majerus and Augie Schmidt were sophomores on the 1951-52 squad (only Nelson lettered). They would compose the heart of the juggernaut that went 25-1 winning the consolation trophy at Williams Arena in March, 1954.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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