Football captain staying positive after on-field spinal injury ends career
HILLS, Minn. — Trenton Bass figures he has two options when he wakes up each morning.
He can either hang his head in defeat or play the hand life dealt him.
The 17-year-old from Hills chooses the latter each morning as he continues to adapt to life and daily activities from a wheelchair since sustaining a severe, life-altering neck injury at a Sept. 8 varsity football game.
"I can sit around and be miserable and live life that way or try and do what I can to try and improve and make life how it was," Trenton said Thursday, Dec. 28, from the comfort of his Hills home, one week after returning from approximately three months of rehabilitation therapy in Colorado.
Trenton, who Hills-Beaver Creek football coach Rex Metzger hails as a versatile athlete and team leader, understands that achieving goals takes hard work, dedication and a positive attitude.
Since the life-changing hit, Trenton has been a starter in a different kind of ballgame he never could have imagined he'd be playing — re-learning how to accomplish daily tasks and hopefully walking again one day.
The life-changing hit
The details of Trenton's second — and subsequently last — football game of his senior season are those he won't soon forget.
Trenton, who Metzger said the team could count on in a variety of roles, began the season as a team captain and played running back and cornerback positions in the nine-man setup.
The two-time football all-conference athlete was playing defense with about a minute and a half remaining of the Sept. 8 Hills-Beaver Creek game against Mountain Lake when the play that would change his life came toward his side of the field.
"I went around a blocker and just got my head in front of his leg as he was running the opposite direction that I was," Trenton recalled.
The hit knocked the approximately 6-foot-1 Trenton face-down on the field. Having regained consciousness, he remembers everything went black, as the impact temporarily impaired his vision.
The recollections of that evening are ingrained differently in Trenton's mom's memory, as Missy Bass watched the events unravel from the stands.
After the play concluded, it was not apparent which Hills-Beaver Creek football player remained face-down on the field. As Trenton's teammates exited the field, Missy had her eyes peeled for No. 28.
As more players walked off the gridiron, whispers of "I think it's Trenton," began permeating throughout the stands.
"So then people just kind of began holding hands and laying their hands on my shoulder," she said.
Trenton was rushed by ambulance to Windom Area Hospital, where he spent no more time than necessary was taken to confirm what was feared — two broken vertebrae of his spinal segment. He was then taken by medical helicopter to Avera in Sioux Falls, S.D., and prepared for surgery.
"The injury happened probably at 9:30 that night and surgery was a little before 2 a.m.," Trenton remembers of the quick action taken by medical personnel.
Two titanium rods, six screws and less chunks of bones later, Trenton spent three days in the intensive care unit before being transferred to the neurology wing, where he recovered for three about three weeks.
While Missy said in the moment she did not realize the extent of Trenton's injuries from her view from afar — having witnessed other student-athletes be carried off the field by stretcher — she admitted her mind did not immediately wander to the reality.
"A broken neck and paralysis? It's just one of those things you never think could happen to your child," she said.
Therapy becomes full-time job
About as soon as he was discharged from one hospital, Trenton was admitted to the next.
He spent three months undergoing a regimented therapy schedule at Craig Hospital — a rehabilitation hospital in Englewood, Colo. that specializes in spinal cord injury rehabilitation — which included relearning how to complete daily tasks that had long been second nature.
Recovering became Trenton's full-time job, as he dedicated his time and effort from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week to learning how to get in and out of bed, vehicles and sofas; brushing his teeth; and showering given the circumstances.
His time at Craig — which was recommended to the family by multiple people — was also spent meeting and socializing with others his age that were undergoing similar treatment.
"It helped having kids my age to hang out with," he said.
While the family has never resented football since Trenton's injury, their time at Craig further confirmed they should not blame the sport — which is the easy thing to do, Missy said.
"It could have happened doing anything else," she said.
Despite being home, therapy sessions will continue, but this time closer to home in Sioux Falls. This week, he began outpatient therapy, which he'll continue three times per week until traveling back to Craig in July for an evaluation of his progress.
Outpouring of support
As Trenton was focusing on regaining his strength and learning to adapt with limited mobility, a support team that spread from his hometown to across the nation was springing into action to help in any way possible.
On the homefront, a quick drive through the southwest Minnesota town is all it would take for an outsider to witness the rally of support the Bass family received from friends and neighbors. And — with a population of approximately 600 — it would not take long to traverse across the entire town of Hills and see many households proudly displaying bright red yard signs that depict "Trenton Strong, Patriot Pride" on a clenched fist. T-shirts, sweatshirts, wristbands and car decals were among other items created and sold through a grassroots community effort to help support the family.
That support has extended far beyond the small community of Hills.
From fundraisers, special recognitions and helmet decals, surrounding communities and high school football teams from both within and beyond Hills-Beaver Creek's conference wanted to know how they could help, Metzger said.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "After that game, people understood the reality of his injury. I can't believe the amount of people that reached out to me. It didn't just stop after the first couple of weeks. It's still going on now."
Since the accident, individuals from across the country have followed Trenton's journey on social media.
Nearly 19,000 social cheerleaders are rooting for a successful recovery on the "Pray for Trenton" Facebook page.
A YouCaring page — which allows individuals to make financial contributions online to a cause — was also created for the family. As of Friday, the page had received 276 financial contributions worth nearly $32,000.
"Most of them are people we don't know," said Trenton's sister-in-law, Rochelle Leuthold.
Missy is completely flabbergasted at the response and kind deeds their family has received, especially from countless people they don't know.
"We've found out there's good people in this world," she said.
The road ahead
Trenton's glad to be home and taking a little time off.
His life has been anything but quiet since returning home from Colorado Dec. 21, though. The Basses' home has been a revolving door as his friends come and go to watch television, play video games and enjoy other "normal" activities with their friend.
Trenton even went back to school a couple times to visit classmates and teachers prior to the winter break. He'll return to the classroom soon when the second semester begins in early January and — since he was fortunately ahead on his credits at the beginning of the year — is set to graduate with his class in the spring.
As far as walking again? It's a possibility.
As medical professionals continuously remind him, each injury is unique and everyone heals differently. There's plenty of work that lies ahead, but much like from the moment of his injury, he's not letting it stress him out.
"Everyone accepts it differently I guess, but I didn't have much trouble dealing with it," he said. "I kind of just realized that's going to make it a lot easier — if it's not something you think about all the time and worry about."
While the future is unknown, the teenager says he has a strong faith and will take things in stride.
"It's a weight off your shoulders to know that God has a plan for you," he said.