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.

Comments (12)
  1. What was his injury? Great story of proper mind set and personal goals. Maybe others have faced a greater adverseity to wrestle though?? Not taking ANYTHING away from this boy but I’m sure many before him have had the same battle or tougher.

    1. dana says:

      You asked what his injury was? He had MANY life-threatening injuries as a result of the bus crash. Multiple vertebral fractures, massive internal bleeding, a ruptured spleen, a bruised lung, multiple lacerations, including a lacerated kidney and liver. He was on a ventilhator, and in a lot of pain both physically and emotionally (4 of his friends died in the same crash). Below is the initial story from his caring bridge page. You can type in his name and read the entire journal if you go to the caring bridge site. He had a long haul to recovery, and his mom did a great job keeping all of those who were concerned informed. Derek wasn’t expected to even make it initially. Why do you automatically assume others have had to face greater adversity to wrestle? I doubt very many kids have ever had to overcome more than this! Check out his caringbridge story and journal sometime – it is truly AMAZING that he is able to wrestle at ALL, let alone make it to the state meet. He was favored to go his freshman year, but the bus crash happened the weekend before sections, taking away his opportunity to qualify.

      The following was the inital entry from Dereks caring bridge page (written by his mother, who is a nurse):

      Derek was injured Feb 19th while riding the school bus to wrestling practice in Marshall. He was taken to Marshall Hospital to be stabalized. He was talking and complaining of pain when I arrived in ER.

      He was transferred by helicopter to Avera Mckennan in Souix Falls, SD. The helicopter ride I took with him took a mere 30 minutes but yet seemed to last an eternity. Upon arrival to the Mckennan ER, he had a repeat ultrasound of his abdomen, a ultrasound of his heart and a chest x-ray. The bleeding was significant and source unknown .He was sent directly to surgery to explore the abdomen and stop the bleeding.

      He received 5 units of blood, and surgery went well. His vital signs stabalized greatly afterwards. The surgeon removed his spleen, and repaired a nick in the small bowel. He also has a bruised left lung, a large cut through his left back muscle that was also sewn closed. He has a large amount of blood in the abdominal cavity which is being drained with a tube, and they are unsure of how his left kidney is functioning.

      He is in ICU and is on a ventilator. A CT scan was done which found 4 rib fractures and a small kidney laceration, which they at this time think will heal on its own. He is on IV medication to keep him sedated and managable. Although every now and then spunky Derek’s body uses up the medication quickly and he starts to wake up, buck the tube and try to get up. This is a great sign that indicates it may be easy to get him off the vent very soon.

      The Dr. will explain in he morning about some possible vertebral fratures and bony fragments. At this point Derek will need more testing to check out the rest of his spine for damage, although he has sensation and movement, which makes me feel reassured.

      Please let Derek know you are thinking of him and please pray for every family involved in the accident


    2. BcB says:

      What? What a dumb response? Obviously it was a pretty bad injury. The story is not about who came before him it’s about him

      1. Listen quick draw, I praise this young kid for doing what he did. But from a cco aspect of it they make it sound like he is the only one to ever have a serious injuy, family issue, or heath problems to come back and excell at a sport. Well high school sports have been around for over 100 years. So in that great history you mean to tell me that there has been no other person to battle adversity and come back? Open your eyes and please don’t be so negative. I myself battled a serious injuys to play sports again so I think my comment is fair.

    3. johnnycmoun says:

      Go see a therapist married to the truth… Obviously you haven’t worked hard enough to accomplish a goal like Derek did… Not only did he lose 4 classmates and witness it all but his injuries were serious enough to almost take his life. This is a great positive story that I enjoy reading but there is always seems to be a person like you that challenges it. Good luck Derek and great job!

    4. Dana says:

      Derek was almost killed in that bus crash. There were ambulance crew members that were doubtful he would make it through the night. Derek didn’t have just one injury, he had multiple, life-threatening injuries. He had several fractured vertebrae, a lacerated liver, lacerated kidney, a ruptured spleen and massive internal bleeding. He was in ICU on a ventilator, and was in the hospital for a long time. Besides dealing with all of the physical pain and healing, he also had to deal with losing 4 friends, that died in the same crash. It is truly a blessing that he was able to survive that, let alone be able to compete as a wrestler again. I doubt few have been that close to deaths door and made it back. If you’d like to see his full story, his caring bridge page is still up. His mom, Jenny is a nurse and did a great job keeping everyone informed of his progress without scaring the many kids who checked in multiple times a day on their friend/teammate/classmate. Just type in derekvarpness on the visit page, and you can see what a long recovery road this tremendous young man had. It is quite inspirational!

      1. Dana says:

        p.s. Derek won his wrestle-back match last night 8-3. He wrestles again this morning… GO DEREK!!!!

      2. BUZZCUT says:

        This story should have included the information in this post. This post tells me than the story. Great Job!!!

    5. Brenda says:

      Dear “married to negativity”,
      Why would you even post? How is your comment even relevant? Where in this article does it say Derek is the only young person to come back to sports after a serious injury? Does it make you feel better to make light of another individual’s success after serious adversity? Who cares if you also went back to sports after an injury? This article isn’t about you, it’s about Derek Varpness…who obviously is an extraordinary young man & wrestler.
      Get over yourself…

  2. Mom of many says:

    What a great story!!!!! Great job!!!! It’s kids like this that could show so many of the trouble makers out there what it’s like to put forth hard work and make something of themselves instead of making excuses about how hard life can be.
    SO many kids these days are looking for he easy way out of everything. It’s great to see such a hard worker with high aspirations. He should be very proud!

  3. MPA says:

    When I was growing up in the 50’s I read Superman and Superboy comic’s. I dreamed that a superboy lived in every small town in America. More proof.

  4. Rhonda says:

    I personally know Derek and his mom. I work with her at the Granite Falls Hospital. I was standing right there with her when the pager went of at the hospital. We were prepairing for the worst possible scenario…A bush crash with known fatalities of children. And then she found out her son was on that bus. Just think about what that exact moment would have been like for you? Jenny was prepairing to take care of injuries at our facility knowing that her son was being taken to another hospital with life threatening injuries! Unless you were there….you have no idea!

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