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Editor's column: The best marathon of his life

July 31, 2010
By Per Peterson

Sawyer Stevens looks up to Minnesota Vikings stars Chad Greenway and Brett Favre for obvious reasons. What Minnesota kid who knows anything about football wouldn't? But you can count the rising star linebacker and the future Hall of Fame quarterback as admirers of Sawyer as well.

The lives of the three have become somewhat intertwined in the last year.

Sawyer, one of the 16 students injured in the 2008 Cottonwood bus crash that took the lives of his brother, Reed, Emilee Olson, and Hunter and Jesse Javens, recently attended Greenway's football camp in Hutchinson where the athletes were put through drills and did calisthenics every day. Exercising probably never felt so good to Sawyer.

And last year, the eighth-grader-to-be was a guest of the Favre family at a 2009 home game.

Favre called and invited the family personally.

"My parents got the call and surprised me," Sawyer said. "We left at 2 in the morning to get to Winter Park (where the Vikings practice). It was really cool."

Sawyer also came home with a special momento - a sideline cap that was thrown to him by Vikings quarterback Sage Rosenfels. The Gatorade-stained cap is now his good-luck charm. It won't be washed.

Sawyer's mom, Kandy, said as much as her son admires the Vikings players, that sentiment works the other way, too.

"The thing about some of these big-named people who have heard about him is he's really touched their heart," said Kandy. "He personally is a real humble kid. After meeting Brett Favre and having him calling and asking to come to a game, he went to school the following Monday the same kid. He never mentioned it at school once. I think he thought it would be bragging."

Sawyer has plenty to brag about, if that was his style.

The crash left him with numerous injuries - severely bruised lungs, a lacerated spleen, a broken femur that was surgically repaired with a plate and some pins. And then there's the damage to his sciatic nerve, which runs from the middle of the back all the way down to the tip of the big toe, an injury that has left Sawyer with a deformed foot.

It will be years before he is close to 100 percent because of the length of time it takes for a body's nerves to heal.

Despite the pain in his left foot, not only is Sawyer back on the football field, he also competes in a sport that to most is a walk in the park, but to Sawyer seems more like running a marathon: golf.

Sawyer was cleared by the Minnesota State High School League to use a golf cart during matches. Every course his team went to, a cart was waiting.

He didn't use any of them.

"He was never used to all that walking, and personally, I think it was healing for him," Kandy Stevens said. "He just chose never to use (a cart). They had it sitting there at each of the opposing schools; they were aware of what was going on, but he exercised his right not to use it."

"I think it would've been too much of a hassle for other people," Sawyer said quietly, adding that he starts to feel some pain and soreness in his foot around the fourth or fifth hole. It was very strenuous, but it wasn't that bad. It's better than running. It's like if you were to run a marathon. When you're done you get sore. For me it happens fairly quickly. Playing nine holes, my feet get sore.

"Some people can play an 18-hole course three times in a row. It doesn't work that way for me."

The nightmarish bus crash changed a lot of lives forever. It robbed families of their children and left broken bones, bruises, scars and tears behind. It left Sawyer with a long list of injuries, too, some that might not heal before he puts on a cap and gown. But he has resumed his life as a kid. He's back on the football field, back on the golf course and back on the track - the track to a normal life, even though, at times, it seems like a marathon.



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