A Minn. H.S. Wrestler’s Improbable Story

By John Lauritsen, WCCO-TV

— It takes hard work and determination to make it to the state tournament. And it’s a safe bet that no wrestler has worked harder to get here than senior Derek Varpness.

“It makes me want to cry, he’s back on the mat. He was told he would never be back out there, and now he’s in the State Tournament. It’s just a blessing. He is the most resilient, wonderful kid. He can get through anything,” said Derek’s mom, Jenny Varpness.

“He knew it was his last chance to make it and he was just overwhelmed that he made it,” said Derek’s dad, Stacy Varpness.

Three years ago, Derek was one of the students in the Cottonwood bus crash that killed 4 of his classmates and almost took his life. He had several life-threatening injuries. But being told by doctors he would never play sports again was all the motivation Derek needed.

“He got hurt pretty bad and to come back this far, the determination, it’s spilled off on me as a coach,” said Ray Pederson, who coached Derek in football.

Since the crash, Derek spent countless hours rehabbing and now finds himself achieving a dream.

“It’s a good feeling because some kids who have had injuries never come back. I was told I wouldn’t wrestle, but here I am again,” said Derek, who qualified at the 135-pound weigh class. He was Marshall’s only state entrant.

His State Tournament debut was bittersweet. Derek got an early take-down in his first-round match, but ended up losing.

But this really wasn’t about the outcome. As soon as Derek stepped foot on the mat, the perseverance it took to get here had paid off.

“Just keep working hard and never give up, anything’s possible. One day what you didn’t think you would be able to do, you could do,” said Derek.

Doctors had also told Derek he would never play football or ride horses again, but he is now able to do both of those things.

Derek also won his 100th career wrestling match this year at 135 pounds, which was another goal he had set for himself.


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