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Running with Landon: Family rallies around their disabled brother

Landon Hochstetler may be resigned to a wheelchair, but he comes from a large family of two dedicated parents, seven sisters and now some nieces and nephews who all rally around him.

What does one do when they are part way through a marathon and mental and physical fatigue starts to set in?

You rally.

That’s what the family of Landon Hochstetler will do when they take to the starting line of the Dick Beardsley Marathon.

The Hochstetlers, a large rural Becker County family, will not just be running the 5K together, but they’ll literally be pushing the young man they’re really running for — Landon.

The 20-year-old suffers from the aftereffects of a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a vehicle while roller blading alongside the road in September 2010.

The Detroit Lakes hockey player who was just shy of his 17th birthday had been training for the upcoming season.

Landon survived, but his brain injury was so significant that even today he cannot walk or talk.

Although that split-second accident forever changed the lives of the Hochstetlers, they still burn with a drive to help Landon recover as fully as he can.

They know he’ll never be the same, but quitting isn’t an option.

The Hochstetler family, including parents Les and Gail, Landon’s seven sisters and a handful of his nieces and nephews, will be pushing him in a new all-terrain stroller.

“It’s our way of poking TBI (traumatic brain injury) in the eye and saying ‘We’re not curled up in the corner,” said Gail Hochstetler. “We’re out and about, and we’re not done.”

Hochstetler says the family has been doing some training for the race and will likely take turns actually pushing Landon.

She also says while she knows Landon loves crowds and will love being a part of the event, it’s also for the family members who have all been pushed emotionally themselves over the past four years.

“It’s a rallying thing,” said Hochstetler. “It gets to be a long, and at moments very dark journey, and there are moments of hopelessness. But this is a way to rally the family to say ‘Yeah, it’s been a long and hard road but let’s keep on… let’s find other ways to help Landon.  This isn’t as far as we’re going.”

Landon undergoes physical therapy on a regular basis, and his family is always searching for new techniques to help his brain re-route itself.

He smiles, he stands, he communicates some, and he clearly understands a lot of what is being said to him.

Although to the outsider it may look like he still has a long way to go, his family knows how far he’s come since the accident, when they were told he’d never do anything but lay there.

Now the Hochstetlers will go another leg of a marathon with their first family 5K, and true to the faith that this family holds so dear, they will also be doing it for others.

“You know, none of us are intensely athletic, but this is just a way for us to say to the community and to other families battling traumatic brain injuries that we can go out and about and participate in things like this, and we hope to encourage those families to keep fighting,” she said.

Hochstetler says Landon never had a real love of running; he’d rather have strapped on some ice skates or roller blades, but he loved everything athletic.

His hockey number, 21 for Detroit Lakes, was retired after the accident, and now the Hochstetlers are hoping even more community members decide to join the family and “run for 21.”

They have no particular time goal; in fact, they expect to be one of the slower finishers, but they fully intend on having some fun.

“It’s a matter of keeping a slow, steady pace and finishing,” said Hochstetler, “…and that’s how it is in a TBI battle — it’s a slow, steady job in the direction of recovery.”

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

(218) 844-1466