Dan Beaudrie doesn’t remember his first two weeks in the hospital.

He doesn’t remember the crash that fractured his spine, punctured a lung and caused his brain to bleed. He has no recollection of the flight from a small hospital in Thermopolis to the Billings Clinic in Montana. He can’t recall when doctors put tubes down his throat to help him breathe and attached devices to his body to monitor his vitals.

His first memory after the crash is of being helpless, of needing machines to sustain him and loved ones to help with even the most basic of tasks.

But as the 15-year-old Cody boy gazed at the ceiling tiles, he thought of only one thing.

“I just want to wrestle again.”

A broken body

Beaudrie began March 22, 2015, by competing at the Rocky Mountain National Wrestling Tournament in Denver. By then he’d already enjoyed some measure of success, taking third in the 145-pound class for Cody at the 2015 Wyoming State High School Class 3A Wrestling Championships.

He rode home from the Denver tournament with a few other wrestlers. His last memory of that day is eating dinner with them in Casper.

The road back to Cody passes through the Wind River Canyon. Sheer rock walls plunge to the canyon floor, where the Wind River makes its way slowly north. U.S. Highway 20 follows the river’s eastern shore, and to navigate the canyon, travelers must pass through a series of tunnels.

Beaudrie and his friends had driven through the northernmost of the tunnels when they came around a corner and encountered a large rock that had fallen from the cliff wall. There was no time to stop.

Their Jeep Cherokee struck the rock. It skidded, rolled and then struck the cliff wall before coming to rest upside-down in the emergency lane.

Everyone inside the SUV was hurt. Assistant wrestling coach Chuck Flickinger was paralyzed. His daughter, Anna, who was asleep in the back, broke both of her legs. His son, Ben, was the driver and escaped with cuts to his hands and knees.

David Plummer, a sophomore at the time of the accident, broke his foot but managed to run to higher ground until he found a cell signal strong enough to call for help. Jon Sanchez, then a freshman, broke his collarbone.

Beaudrie was pinned upside-down in the Jeep. The impact broke bones on the right side of his face, his ribs and his spine. It punctured his lung, broke his palate and shattered some of his teeth.

His head had either struck the canyon wall or been cut by shattered glass, peeling back the skin on the top of his head. His brain was bleeding in two places.

Doctors later told him that similar brain injuries were almost always fatal.

The long road back

Beaudrie spent two weeks in the hospital. He returned to Cody and began months of therapy.

He underwent resistance training to regain strength in his core. Therapists stressed the importance of proper posture when sitting.

There was also mental therapy, used to monitor and improve brain activity that may have been damaged from the concussion and brain bleeds.

Doctors told him he’d never play high school football again. But there was still wrestling.

Beaudrie wanted to join his teammates that winter, but his injuries were still too severe.

From the sidelines, he watched Plummer and Sanchez return to the mat at the state tournament. Sanchez reached the quarterfinals and Plummer made it to the semifinals.

Beaudrie also watched Powell's Kye Catlin, who’d defeated him in the semifinals the previous year, win his fourth state championship.

Relegated to more months of therapy, Beaudrie encountered regular setbacks from trying to rush his recovery.

"When I got out of (therapy) it was a lot of working out and a lot of going so hard when my body wasn’t quite ready," he said. "Hurting myself and getting set back a bit. Then going really hard again and it’s just kind of been a cycle of that.

"I’ve never really wisened up about, ‘Maybe you should just ease into it,’" he said.

Finally, in the summer of 2016, Beaudrie received the go-ahead to start training for wrestling again.

He reached out to Alex Schlattmann, a fellow high school wrestler from Riverside, to help him train that summer. He also sought help from Catlin, who had just graduated from Powell High School before attending Northwest College in Powell.

Catlin was not only a four-time state champion -- he, too, had overcome injury on his way to gold. Catlin underwent four surgeries during his junior and senior years of high school, which limited him to fewer than 30 matches in those seasons.

"During those practices we could talk about things that weren’t wrestling, too," Catlin said, "so we became pretty good friends over the course of wrestling once or twice a week like that."

The three would decide on a town to practice in and then wrestle at least once a week from June until mid-July, when Beaudrie separated the AC joint in his shoulder at a University of Wyoming wrestling camp.

Once Beaudrie was able to wrestle again, the three practiced twice a week until mid-September, when classes resumed.

Cody started its wrestling season at the Monster Match, which draws athletes from all over the region for a competition in Denver. 

"I was so excited and wanted to do so well that I ended up getting myself too psyched out and I didn’t do so great," Beaudrie said. "I was so excited but also just so nervous, like terrified, because I wanted to do so well."

He improved over the course of the season but still struggled to win finals matches.

Then, just before the Ron Thon, arguably the state’s largest wrestling tournament, yet another injury sidelined Beaudrie. He experienced numbness in his left side that hindered his strength.

Again, he found himself watching from the sidelines. But the ultimate goal, becoming state champ, remained.

The following week he was supposed to wrestle Schlattman, but Beaudrie wasn't cleared to compete. His friends were concerned.

"At Ron Thon I wasn’t quite as worried about it," Schlattmann said, "but afterwards we had a dual and he didn’t wrestle in that and it got a little worrying."

Beaudrie was cleared to wrestle in time for regionals in late February. Finishing in the top four there would earn him an invite to the state championship in Casper.

There, almost two years after the crash, after so many doctor's visits and therapy appointments, after setbacks from driving his body too hard, he won.

A dream come true

A week later, Beaudrie found himself on the floor of the Casper Events Center. He was 17 now, a high school junior preparing for his shot at the state title.

"It’s a dream come true," he said. "When we were jogging around, warming up, I was almost in tears, so happy, so grateful to God and all the people that worked so hard to help get my body back and so I could live a normal life, so I could do the things that I wanted to again."

Beaudrie began the state meet as the top-seeded wrestler out of the West Conference. He defeated his first two opponents by pinfall in the first period.

Both Plummer and Sanchez also advanced in the first day, their teammate's determination serving as motivation.

"He pretty much gave light to everyone when they're struggling," Plummer said. "I don't know where we would be without him."

Beaudrie couldn't pin his semifinal opponent but won by majority decision. That secured his spot in the state championship match.

On championship Saturday, Beaudrie ran in place and worked on his form for 25 minutes leading up to his match. His Cody teammates were there to watch, along with Schlattmann and Catlin, the friends who spent hours with him as he recovered.

“Get out there and get that first takedown,” he remembers thinking. “Then I’m going to turn him and I’m going to pin him.”

Beaudrie started in control and scored a near-fall in the first period before a blood-stoppage on his opponent forced a break. There was another stoppage for blood early in the second period, this time because of Beaudrie.

On the restart, Beaudrie regained the advantage. After a takedown he rolled his opponent and went for the pin.

The Cody fans stood with excitement. Plummer and Sanchez screamed. Schlattmann yelled encouragement while Catlin cheered from the floor.

They all watched the referee's hand. Accompanied by a whistle, it slapped against the mat.

The match was over. Beaudrie had won.

People cried and hugged. Beaudrie leaned up toward the stands, where Sanchez had Beaudrie's brother, John, on a video call.

"We did it, John!" Beaudrie repeated into the phone before breaking down.

Plummer was waiting with tears rolling down his cheeks. The two embraced in a long hug.

"Two years ago," Plummer told Beaudrie during their hug, "you would have never thought we’d be here, that you'd be out there, that I could have won, because we were in pretty bad shape."

It took Catlin 10 minutes to work his way past the others congratulating Beaudrie to greet his friend.

Beaudrie let all of it sweep over him. He shared laughs with friends, explaining every movement in the match, including when the referee finally raised Beaudrie's arm in victory.

"I think about all the people that helped me get back out of the hospital bed and achieve my dream," he said. "Ever since I woke up in that hospital, all I thought of was being back here and getting my hand raised on that mat. I’m just grateful to the good lord above because I know that this has got to be all him, man.

"Everybody said that I shouldn’t have made it, said that I shouldn’t have come back as fast as I did, said I should never be able to do this stuff again. And I’m just grateful to all the people who put in their time and effort into me. All the people who sent money from all across the nation, the wrestling community, it’s the coolest thing. ... Especially my family, my parents, who allowed me to come back."

His teammates surrounded him, clapping. Other friends leaned down from the stands and patted him on the back.

"It means so much more than just the athletic win, than just the sports," Beaudrie said. "It means so much more than that."

Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @Brady_CST

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Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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