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Willmar notebook: Long road back for Litchfield family

Last night the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato’s boys hockey team was to have played at Cardinal Arena.

The U.S. Highway 12 meeting was postponed for a second time. The original date was Jan. 4, another day of bad weather, and 24 hours after the Dragons’ hockey coach was in a bad traffic accident between Orono and Maple Plain.

Chris Olson with his sons Ty, 7, and Braden, 9, was returning from a Gophers hockey game. All three were injured, Ty the most seriously.

The first-grader spent several weeks in the ICU at North Memorial Hospital. He’s now at Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul.

On Sunday, the family had a near normal day in the large family room provided at the hospital.

People who have been in accidents or have had a loved one serious hurt know that the routine of daily life is flipped upside down. The simple acts of daily life suddenly are out of reach. You look out a hospital window and see people going about the everyday humdrum activities and you may envy them and yearn for your life to be normal again.

But recovery won’t be hurried.

Ty is rebounding, slowly. He suffered head injuries that set him back to almost like the “toddler stage,’’ in the words of his father.

On Sunday, Chris and Cindy, and all three of their children enjoyed time together that seemed like a “regular day.” Sister Alyssa, 12, a constant visitor to the Twin Cities since the accident, had played 12U hockey in Willmar on Saturday. Her dad, who is on crutches, watched, then saw the Dragons varsity play Mound Westonka at the Litchfield Civic Arena over one period, a return to the rink he found invigorating.

Late Sunday, Cindy blogged on CaringBridge:

“It was a great weekend for Team Olson.  We were all together last evening, Alyssa and Braden were also able to stay here at the hospital so they were here for a good portion of the day … Ty was so excited to have everyone here.

“He was just so happy, he was totally himself. We did some reading, studying, and even Accelerated Math.  It really felt like a normal Sunday. The older two went home only to find school has been closed for tomorrow [Monday].

“Ty was on fire tonight. The nurses sat and laughed at him for a long time. He was chattering up a storm. He truly is one of the most observant people I have ever met. When he has heard or seen something and [he] reminds us of those things. He was really tuned in to school closings this evening. As soon as he saw St. Paul Schools was closed his arm pumped, and had a huge smile on his face. Cindy reminded him that our school was also closed and he kind of shrugged his shoulders. I told him that his dad is a teacher and he will do some school tomorrow. He rolled his eyes at me.

His progress is still going forward. He has to continue to work hard. Each day seems like a milestone of sorts. The hardest thing to see is when he begs to go home, but we continue to remind him that each day here is one day closer to going home. That seems to have motivated him.  I think he is looking forward to eating a donut as much as anything!”

The brain injury impacted Ty’s ability to talk and swallow and both his gross and fine-motor functions, such as walking and hand movements.

Braden, who wears a cast on a broken leg, has been back at school for some time. Chris, who is a middle school language teacher, didn’t suffer any broken bones but his ankles were badly messed up. He reports he can now “shuffle along.”

He doesn’t know if he will be able to return to coaching this season. In the meantime, assistant coach and former LDC head coach, Craig McKechney, is in charge.

Cindy, who also works at the middle school, and Chris both grew up in Greenway. Chris has known former Willmar hockey coach Reed Larson, a Grand Rapids native, since both were in third grade.

The parents have been fortified by the positive attitude of their three children and the support of family, friends and “people we don’t even know,” many of the latter from the greater hockey community.

“It’s been overwhelming and inspiring,” Chris told me. “It’s pretty amazing. There’s a lot of good people out there.”

Cindy’s posting have often mentioned the tremendous care the children have received both at North Memorial and now Gillette, which Chris described as “child and family oriented.”

(See CaringBridge for photos of the Olson children at Gillette posted Monday).

As of this writing Monday, a makeup for the Stephen Reynolds Memorial Cream Can Cup is yet to be announced.

Frozen 5k

The Frozen 5k run leaves from Zorbaz at 9 a.m. Saturday. The weather should be fair — high of 13, part sun and northwest breeze. Last year 172 went the distance. The record is 241 in 2007.

McKenzie Holt of St. Cloud holds the female record of 18:28, set when she was a 16-year-old cross county and track standout in St. Cloud. Joel Dudgeon, a teacher from Wabasso, has the overall record of 17:40.

This is the first event in the 2014 Glacial Lakes Championship Running Series. More info at

On the fly

n Concordia College’s women’s buckets team (11-2 MIAC, 13-4) beat Gustavus Adolphus (5-8, 8-8) in OT,  73-71 on  Saturday at Memorial Auditorium in Moorhead. Greta Walsh (Litchfield) supplied 9 points and 2 assists and Alexandra Lippert (Willmar) 13 points and 2 blocks as all five Cobber starters reached double figures.

n The Minnesota Gophers wrestling team (8-1), ranked No. 4 after losing a week earlier 19-4 to Michigan, nudged No. 2 Iowa 19-15 at Iowa City on Sunday. Kevin Steinhaus (Pennock/KMS) won a 8-6 decision at 184 pounds for a 15-12 Gopher lead with two matches left.

n Shaun Condon (Clara City/MACCRAY) may be the most valuable No. 6 man in the Northern Sun. This past weekend, the SMSU Mustangs won a pair of two-point games, both on the road — 58-56 at Wayne State (Neb) and 77-75 at Augustana (S.D.). In the first win, the 6-2 junior guard provided 10 points and 5 rebounds. Against the Vikings on Saturday, he made a crucial lay-up in the last minute and finished with 14 points. The Mustangs (10-4, 13-7) had trailed by as many as 16 in the second half.

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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