LIGONIER — There were a lot of questions and an uncertainty they would go unanswered.
How would the accident affect him? Could he get back to racing? Can he get back to where he was?
West Noble senior Colten Cripe has heard a lot of those types of questions since that day, and to this point, he’s answered every one of them and erased any doubt that he wouldn’t race again.
Cripe and his friend and fellow West Noble classmate Joel Mast were involved in a car accident on the night of Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, a week after the IHSAA Cross Country State Finals.
Cripe suffered brain damage from a severe concussion with bleeding on the brain and a broken pelvis. Mast didn’t suffer any serious injuries.
It was after the accident that Cripe became more determined to get back to running competitively and be one of the best runners in the state.
A month and a half after the accident, all of the runners who made the KPC Media Group All-Area boys cross country team showed up at East Noble High School for a team photo. Cripe was one of the athletes who made the All-Area team and was able to make it. Most of the athletes in the photo had big grins on their faces, because it was a time where they were being recognized for their accomplishments for the 2018 season.
Cripe remembers that day much differently. He walked in on crutches and was one of a few that didn’t smile for the photo. The pain he was in was evident.
“I remember it was really a blur,” Cripe said. “Honestly, I really didn’t want to go just because of the head stuff. It killed the whole time, and I was not really focused or engaged on what was really going on around me.”
At the time, Cripe still wasn’t going to school yet and it was his first trip out of the house. And an outing like that made him more exhausted than usual. Afterwards, he said he slept the entire car ride home after taking the photo and continued to sleep once he got home and did so late into the next morning. He said he woke up with a headache, which he still gets to this day, but not as severe.
Cripe said it took roughly five to six months before the fog in his head started lifting. He said he’s off taking Tylenol regularly.
The trip to take the All-Area photo was one of the few times he was able to be around his teammates and friends. Cripe missed out on being able to see his friends and family on a daily basis, and he missed Thanksgiving and Christmas last year.
Cripe said his fun, which got him out of the house, was going to physical therapy in Goshen at least once a week, but more often than not twice a week. He was able to get on the elliptical and the exercise bike in the early spring.
He came back to school with just a few weeks left in the school year, and even when he did come back it was another gradual, step-by-step process. He started out by just going to one class a day, then two before going for half a day at the end of the school year for finals.
Cripe was able to be around for the track season but wasn’t cleared to compete. During the East Noble boys track sectional, Cripe just ran laps around the football field while the meet was going on.
“I wanted to cheer on my teammates. But more than anything, I wanted to be out there with them, helping them out and helping the team. I felt like, not really holding the team back, but just letting the guys down and that I should be out there. But I just had to be patient and that was hard,” Cripe said.
He suffered a setback in May after he pushed himself too far and hurt his foot. So he had to sit out all of June before coming back in July to start training for the cross country season.
“It’s been a struggle for me mentally, because I wanted to get back so fast but I couldn’t,” Cripe said.
Cripe and the West Noble coaching staff went back and forth on how he should train for the upcoming season and when it is too much for him to handle.
“He works harder than I would even want for him to do. He came up with his own training plan which I’ve reluctantly allowed him to do. His mileage is higher than I want high school athletes to run,” West Noble head coach Rusty Emmert said. “I wasn’t sure how his body would respond to such a demanding training plan. Eight months ago, I didn’t know if he would ever run again. Now he is pushing his body to the limits.”
Cripe was able to get cleared and compete for West Noble this season. His first real test was on Aug. 24 at the Huntington Invitational. His first race of the season. Cripe led the Chargers that day with a 14th-place finish and nearly matched his time from a year ago.
“I was definitely grateful to be there first of all. Just warming up with the team brought back good memories,” Cripe said. “It was only a year ago that I was in that same position, but then my whole life changed. It was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ God was really good to make me be able to compete, let alone go there with a 16:25, four seconds off my PR from the previous year.”
It was an emotional day for not only Cripe, but for his parents Jack and Nikki.
“After the race they were hugging me and crying,” Colten said. “They were so emotional, because to be in that situation as a parent I couldn’t imagine that and what they had to go through.”
Cripe admitted that he was pretty selfish after the accident and had a bad attitude to go along with it. He thought all of the time helping him out took a toll on his parents physically and emotionally.
“I’ve probably been pretty crappy to them emotionally over the past year or so. But with all of their love and support and caring about me, it was very emotional that day,” Cripe said.
Cripe has gone on to set a couple of new personal records, including one at the New Haven Classic a couple of weeks ago in a time of 16:18.
“Every couple weeks when he can just drop that PR (personal record) just a little bit more is kind of an affirmation that he’s back and he’s doing really well. He’s just had, in a way, just a really miraculous type turnaround, because we have a friend who’s a nurse and she said with that type of injury, not only a head injury but a broken pelvis, some kids can’t come back at all,” West Noble assistant coach Michael Flora said. “For him to come back, is pretty spectacular, pretty amazing.”
Emmert said Cripe is the most determined runner he’s ever coached and has extremely high personal goals.
“The great ones are different and that is exactly what Colten is becoming,” Emmert said.
“For me personally, just proving to myself that I belong with some of the elite runners in the state. That’s my biggest thing,” Cripe said. “Since the accident, I’ve wanted to be the best more than ever before.”
Cripe said he wants to help his team make it to the Indiana High School Athletic Association State Finals for the third year in a row, and they are on their way after winning the Northeast Corner Conference title last Saturday. This Saturday, the postseason continues with the sectional race at West Noble.
Cripe wants to run in college and study something business related. He has visited Purdue Fort Wayne and Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He wants to make a decision before Christmas so he can focus on the track season without any distractions.
He said he feels good physically these days. Occasionally, his pelvis is sore after runs or hard workouts. But he thinks he’s on track to feeling better than before the accident.
He also mentioned that he’s happier these days after months of being in pain and not having the greatest attitude about his situation.
As for that night, Nov. 3, 2018, Cripe doesn’t think about it often. There were a lot of questions surrounding that night, and certainly more after it. But Cripe has answered all of them and is more motivated than ever to keep answering them with flying colors.
“Personally, I try not to think about it too much, but there’s definitely times when I do think about it, like when I’m in a car with a friend or when you hear about accidents and tragedies around the community. Like when coach (Chuck) Schlemmer passed away, I really think about how lucky I am to even be here and even run and compete for West Noble,” Cripe said. “It just puts a very different perspective on life, especially when you hear about those other tragedies. You’re just so thankful God was able to bring me back to where I am today.”