KENMARE, N.D. — It was June 6, 2017, and planting was behind. Lenny Rodin had just started down the field again after his son Hunter brought him fuel, and the two continued to talk on the phone as Hunter drove away.
“We had crossed that intersection many times,” Lenny says.
Lenny heard Hunter gasp through the phone just before he heard a crash. He turned to see the pickup Hunter had been driving mangled next to an overturned semi.
Lenny called 911. The rush was no longer on putting in orderly rows down the field. He turned the tractor and drove as fast as he could across the field until he got to the railroad tracks. Then he sprinted to the crash, where he found his oldest child ejected through the rear passenger window of the pickup.
“My heart sunk,” Lenny says. “I started praying right away. ‘Dear God, help him. Help him to make it.’”
The Rodins can talk about the ordeal with no tears now, when Hunter is standing nearby, hearty and healthy, back from a trip to the lake with his brother and friends and ready for a day of baling hay. His brush with death two years behind him, he’s now a college graduate who followed the path he always intended, back to the farm to work with his family.
The crash and the nearly miraculous recovery? That was just a detour.
Before the crash, Hunter already was a bit of a local legend. He’d set national records in 9-man football for passing yards and touchdown passes. He and his younger brother, Jacob, had combined to score six points in 2.8 seconds of a regional semifinal basketball game. He was a well-respected pitcher. But with all those exploits and high school behind him, Hunter had a path he planned to follow to Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minn., and back to the farm west of Kenmare.
“Ever since I was a young kid, I’ve always loved being out at the farm, being out in the outdoors and spending time with family and doing something I love,” Hunter says.
All that seemed to have been put on hold as he lay on the pavement on that June day.
Hunter knows the crash was his fault. The semi driver, from South Dakota, was not injured, and Hunter wasn’t wearing a seat belt.
“I wasn’t really paying attention, and I didn’t see the semi coming across the intersection,” Hunter says.
A helicopter from Williston flew him to Minot’s Trinity Hospital. He was put in an induced coma, and his family experienced a roller coaster of emotions. He had no broken bones and no internal injuries. But the diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury meant there were no guarantees Hunter would live or, if he did live, that he would have a normal life.
“With a head injury, you just don’t know how they’re going to wake up from their episode,” Lenny says.
Back home in Kenmare, word of Hunter’s crash spread.
“There was a lot of people who were praying for him,” Lenny says. “Around the town square in town, friends had organized a prayer time where there’s a lot of people who came and prayed. And I guess I give all the credit to God for saying yes and bringing him back.”
While the Rodins were at Hunter’s side, friends and neighbors finished their planting.
“I’ll forever be grateful for their help and what they gave of their time in helping put the crop in that year,” Lenny says.
After three days, Hunter woke up, and the prognosis improved. He had been in Trinity Hospital for 10 days when the doctors said he was ready for a more specialized therapy routine. The Rodins took him to Craig Hospital in Denver for speech, physical and occupational therapy.
“I had to basically relearn everything,” Hunter says. “The doctors said, how when the road was straight before, the path or the road was under construction, you had to take a detour and then relearn it totally.”
Neighbors and friends had signs up and lights to illuminate the path to welcome Hunter home after 10 days in Denver.
“He made just super strides while he was down there,” Lenny says. “That was a joyful day to come back.”
After the detour
Hunter says it didn’t take him long to get back to normal after his setback. He was able to attend the 2017 North Dakota Shrine Bowl, though he didn’t get to play on the West 9-man team he had made months earlier. Before long, the summer was over and he was heading down the road to Northland Community and Technical College, just as he had planned.
Lenny says that wasn’t easy.
“It was a little concerning. But he’s been a fighter, he’s been a competitor all his life in sports,” he says. “He just worked at it and got back to where he needed to be.”
Hunter has no lingering issues from his crash, so he feels like he’s right back where he would have been if he had stopped at that intersection two years ago. And he has a full appreciation for the life he has chosen.
“I love just, in the evenings when the sun’s going down, you know, and you’re out there, whether it be seeding, combining or whatever, you can see that sunset go down and you can see all of God’s creation,” he says. “It’s pretty miraculous.”