After harrowing injury as a child, Barnesville’s Reep has found a passion on the links

Ricky Reep of Barnesville is in his second season of varsity golf after suffering a traumatic brain injury as a toddler.

Carrie Snyder / The Forum
Ricky Reep of Barnesville is in his second season of varsity golf after suffering a traumatic brain injury as a toddler. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Barnesville, Minn. - When he was 10 years old, Barnesville High School junior golfer Ricky Reep came home from school confused.

He didn’t understand why a couple kids at school made fun of the way he walked. He walked with a limp and his right arm dangled to his side due to paralysis on that side of his body. It’s his walk. It’s how he always walked. How was that his fault?

His dad, Richard, sat him down and showed him newspaper clippings. Ricky read the story about how he nearly died and it brought tears to his eyes.

“Who did this?” Ricky said to his father after reading.

“We’ll never know,” Richard said to his son.

Eight years later, the limp remains and the right arm still dangles, but Ricky is teeing off at Willow Creek Golf Course in Barnesville as part of the varsity golf team. The sky was dark and the wind left very little hope of any type of enjoyable golf outing Wednesday, but the smile never left Ricky’s face as he walked from his house to the course. He was fresh off of breaking 100 for the first time, notching a 99 on 18 holes as the No. 4 golfer for the Trojans against Frazee last week.

“Nothing he does surprises us at this point,” Barnesville coach Matt Askegaard said. “For what he’s gone through, what an accomplishment it is. It’s fun to watch.”

On Jan. 15, 1999, a day before Ricky’s second birthday, he was brought to Heartland Hospital in Fargo by his mother because she said he was having seizures.

Doctors told police Ricky’s brain was bleeding and the boy was a victim of shaken baby syndrome. Doctors at Midwest Children’s Resource Center in Minneapolis would later come to the same conclusion. Court records state Ricky had been in the care of his mother and her then-boyfriend, who she eventually married.

Richard was in the middle of battling for custody of Ricky. As Richard drove from Barnesville to Fargo to get to the hospital to be with his son, a truck drove alongside him with what looked like a married couple in the front seat and a couple of kids in the back.

“They’re probably having a nice family outing,” Richard recalled saying to himself. “I wish I was them.”

When Richard arrived at the hospital, his son’s head was swollen over his ears, and there were tubes everywhere. He was told by doctors to prepare for the worst.

“He was unresponsive and in a coma,” Richard said. “They thought he was going to die. He was bleeding so bad and there wasn’t much blood for him to give. It’s not something that anybody should have to deal with. It’s hard to swallow.”

Ricky was a fighter from the very beginning. He was born three months premature and was 2 pounds, 3.5 ounces at birth. For two months, he was on an incubator and in intensive care right after being born.

Ricky had overcome his first fight. He was walking, saying things like “dad,” “mom,” “gramma” and “num-nums,” swimming in the bathtub and “growing like a weed” before his second birthday. After two weeks in Heartland’s intensive-care unit and three weeks in the pediatric unit, Ricky survived and won another fight, but the battle had just begun.

“He went from a normal little boy to a newborn baby,” Richard said. “He couldn’t use the right side of his body and couldn’t walk or talk. He couldn’t even sit up.”

As for the answer to Ricky’s question about who was to blame, there will never be an answer. According to reports, Clay County law enforcement officials said two years after the incident they thought they knew who nearly killed Ricky, but would not name names. Charges could not be pressed because who was responsible couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

“You watch him walk sometimes and he’s got his limp and you try to envision if he didn’t have that limp, and he didn’t have his right shoe pointed in,” Richard said. “You can’t help but think about what he could have been doing.”

At 5 years old, Ricky found his passion. He lived on the Willow Creek Golf Course with his father, who was granted full custody after the incident. Ricky began hitting balls with the backside of his dad’s righty golf clubs. He had no choice, seeing as the right side of his body being paralyzed made him a lefty. The golf course is now his second home.

“I get out to the golf course every chance I get,” Ricky said.

Ricky, now 18, is in his second season on the Barnesville varsity golf team. He go-karts, is a manager on the football and wrestling teams, fishes, plays video games, ignores bullies with the help of his many friends who are Barnesville football players and wrestlers and he’s set to graduate next year.

Despite all of that, Ricky wishes he could play football and basketball or any contact sport. He wishes it wasn’t so difficult to tie his shoes or remember things. He can’t help but wonder if his story had a different beginning.

“It’s kind of sad,” Ricky said. “I wish I was normal like the other people.”

It doesn’t stop Ricky from writing his story.

“I’m just living my life,” Ricky said.

Ricky has a job this summer working at Willow Creek and says he plans on playing the game for his entire life.

“You can’t golf on the job,” Askegaard joked to Ricky.

“No, but I can golf after,” Ricky said.