This years Strongman competition in Williston was the scene of a quiet miracle.
Former Fairview resident Austin Wicorek, absent the circuit for a year, was back in the ring again, competing as if life itself depended on it.
For him, in some ways, it did.
Wicorek, who now lives in Williston, was struck by twin tragedies last year. First he lost his father. And then he had a brain aneurysm, not long before he was to compete in the national Strongman competition, which hed qualified for the year before.
The 24-year-old was at his fiancees house when the weak spot in an artery in the back of his head finally gave way.
It felt like cymbals were bashing my head together, he recalled.
His fiancee thought it must be a migraine.
Wicorek wasnt sure what it was, but he was certain something was very wrong. He was dizzy, and in so much pain. He decided right away to call 911 a decision that probably saved his life.
An MRI scan would soon reveal that Wicorek had a small brain bleed in the back of his head.
This is the sort of thing that normally happens to a much older adult, Wicorek was told.
He was also told that most people do not make it to the hospital alive.
His life at this point was already a miracle.
Wicorek was life-flighted to Billings, then on to Colorado for treatment. They put two pins in the front of his skull and two in the back. He was strapped him into a metal cage and put him into a radiation machine to cauterize the artery, to hopefully stop it from bleeding any more.
The recovery time for such a procedure could be as many as three years Wicorek was told. That left his powerlifting hobby very much in doubt.
In May, Wicorek went back in for a scan to look for more aneurysms.
It was clear, but the doctor didnt think Wicorek he should lift more than 15 pounds.
In the last five years, Wicorek had built his body up to the point where he could lift hundreds and hundreds of pounds. For him, 15 pounds was nothing. Like lifting a cup of water.
Wicorek couldnt help himself when he heard that ridiculously low number. He laughed out loud.
The doctor, too, laughed, when Wicorek explained his hobby to him.
Fifteen pounds for me could easily be like 225 or 215 pounds, Wicorek said.
They decided he could continue lifting, but take it easy for an indefinite while.
I didnt lift heavy for the entire year, Wicorek said. I kept it light.
Then, with a little less than three months to go before Willistons Strongman event, Wicorek got the all clear from his doctor to compete in the event.
People told me Im crazy, Wicorek said.
But for him not competing felt crazier.
My fathers death, the aneurysm, it had all taken me to a really low place, he said. I hit that dark spot of depression, and I just wanted to give up.
Wicorek remembered that feeling. In school, he was the often the target of bullies.
He thought about quitting school every day.
What he did instead was to take all the anger and frustration and put it into a healthy habit. Weight lifting. That not only got him through school, but helped him lose weight and made him less of a target.
I just kept pushing myself, knowing that I can be something, Wicorek said.
For him, there was no question he would compete once the doctor gave him the go-ahead. He had to give it his best shot. He was alive. He had to honor that by living.
I didnt care if I placed, I was just happy to be alive, he said. Happy to be there to compete.
But he did place, in third. Good enough for a second shot at the nationals he missed. An event for which he is already starting to prepare, of course.
The big thing I want to say about it all is, dont let injuries, dont let life affect what you want to do, he said. Everything that I took, the aneurysm my father passing away the fact I made it this far is a miracle. So dont let anything discourage you. Dont let it affect the way you live.
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