Denfeld News

Feb. 23, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Denfeld’s Frank Cederstrom is back in action after a near-fatal accident
By Rick Weegman

Frank Cederstrom shuddered when he heard the words that a 16-year-old never wants to hear — doctors telling him that he would never play hockey again, and quite possibly never walk again.

In August 2006, Cederstrom lay in a hospital in his hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska, suffering from injuries sustained in a snowmobiling accident. Among his injuries were 23 broken bones, a shattered pelvis and lower back, anddislocated hips and shoulders after he flew past his landing board and crashed hissnowmobile into the ground.

Just a year-and-a-half later, Cederstrom will be on the ice at the Cloquet Area Recreation Center as Duluth Denfeld (16-10) takes on Sauk Rapids-Rice (15-10-1) in a Section 5A high school boys hockey semifinal at 6 p.m. today.

The Denfeld senior center is happy to have the opportunity to again play the sport he loves.

That didn’t appear likely on that mid-August day when Cederstrom went snowmobiling with friends a few miles outside of Fairbanks, one day before he was scheduled to leave to play for a Midget AAA hockey team in Houghton, Mich. Born and raised in Alaska, Cederstrom loved theoutdoors and, despite a lackof snow, often rode hissnowmobile on dirt trails. He also often, as on this occasion, jumped his sled from ramp to ramp over a 25-foot space.

“I got carried away,misjudged my speed and went too fast,” Cederstrom said. “I overshot the landing by 10 feet and landed in the flats. It crushed my [snowmobile] on impact.”

It also crushed several of Cederstrom’s bones. He landed on the back of the snowmobile, which was virtually vertical, and fell back on his tailbone. The end result was a litany of broken bones and dislocations that left him in searing agony as friends drove him to a hospital in a pickup truck.

“It was incredible; I passed out because of the pain,” said Cederstrom, who popped his shoulders back in their sockets during the drive. “I was in and out of consciousness the whole ride there.”

Luckily, Cederstrom, who was wearing only a T-shirt and jeans and no headgear, didn’t suffer any head trauma. But his lower torso was so damaged that he says doctors weren’t optimistic when they talked to him about his future.

“The doctors told me that with the way I had fractures in my joints, I might never be able to use my legs again because of the nerve damage,” he said. “It was difficult to comprehend that, to go from being an athlete and having fun every day to being told that you’re never going to walk again.

“They told me that any kind of physical activity wasn’t in the future.”

Cederstrom was in a wheelchair for three months and on crutches for another three, dropping from 170 pounds to 120. He worked hard in rehabilitation, eventually becoming stronger and more flexible and surprising doctors with his quick recovery.

“I didn’t take it lying down,” he said. “I decided that I wasn’t going to let it beat me.”

Cederstrom missed the first semester at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, and then had trouble focusing on schoolwork upon his return. A hockey and soccer player, Cederstrom said he became depressed by not being able to play athletics and consequently didn’t fare well in class.

When later talking to his aunt and uncle, Candy and Darrell Barnack of Duluth, they suggested Cederstrom move to Duluth for his senior year, rehabilitate and get his life back on track. So Cederstrom left Fairbanks and enrolled at Denfeld last October. He came out for captain’s practice, but nobody knew who he was.

“The first time I caught wind of who Frank Cederstrom was was when he walked in the athletic office and asked about hockey,” Hunters coach Kevin Smalley said. “It’s an incredible story. I looked at it as a terrific thing to be able to help a kid through the injuries and trauma that he’s been through.”

Smalley says Cederstrom has fit in as a third-line center most of the season. He’s scored four goals and added three assists for seven points, but Smalley said that’s not an indication of his true value.

“When he came in here and we explained the rules — that scholastics were No. 1 — he was willing to accept those kinds of rules. That told us that this kid wants an opportunity to prove himself,” Smalley said.

Cederstrom, now 18, says he eventually fit in with teammates.

“It was rough at first; I had to gain everybody’s respect,” he said. “After they saw me work hard at practice, everyone accepted me.”

He says he’s still not 100 percent, and the gruesome scar on his left wrist is one testament to his injuries. He sat out Thursday’s 11-1 quarterfinal victory over Pine City-Rush City because of a concussion, but expects to be back for tonight’s game.

But what’s a concussion compared to what he’s already been through?

Cederstrom has remained upbeat throughout his ordeal. He even hopped back on a snowmobile before getting up on skates to prove to himself that he wouldn’t be afraid to live life with the same gusto as before.

“I take every day as a gift,” he said, “because I don’t know when it’s going to end.”

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