By Mike Max

HOWARD LAKE, Minn. (WCCO) — Gavin Kritzeck was a key component of the Howard Lake Waverly track team as a sprinter.

“He contributed a bunch as a freshman to our team, and as a sophomore, he basically spent all winter in the weight room getting better, getting stronger,” Howard Lake Waverly track coach Andy Hertwig said.

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But the team had to learn how to deal without that teammate.

“The sheriff showed up at our house, and it just turned my life upside down,” Gavin’s mother Kristi Kritzeck said.

He had rolled his car on a gravel road — no drinking and no texting, just excessive speed.

“I just remember the airbag going off, and laying upside down in my car and being airlifted to the hospital,” Gavin said.

His teammates were forced to deal with real life, and it was scary.

“It was hard. It’s never easy to see stuff like that,” Gavin’s teammate Brennan Barth said. “It’s just tough on everyone around here.”

They were a team in shock. They had never won a section title in school history, and now without one of their top runners, they rallied — inspired to do it for Gavin.

“A bunch of kids came over to me afterwards. They set a personal best by feet, or cut 10 seconds of a two-mile, and they would say, ‘That was for Gavin,'” Hertwig said.

They wore orange shirts, and they committed to a cause that would honor their teammate.

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“He was probably a bigger part of the team after his accident,” teammate Loren Stueven said. “He brought us all together. That was probably the main reason we won True Team.”

But that’s not where this story ends. Gavin and is lucky to be alive, and he’s learned how lucky he is to have friends that care so much.

“I don’t know if you can put it into words,” Kristi said. “They’re just remarkable.”

After not being able to feel his legs initially, he’ s walking, but struggling.

“It just kills me to see him like this,” Gavin’s brother Logan Kritzeck said. “Especially when I know that he loves sports and he wants to be out there and be active, but he can’t do that right now.”

It’s made for some intense moments. The morning after the accident was Mother’s Day, and his status was still in doubt — but it was an unforgettable Mother’s day.

“He said, ‘Mom?’ and I said, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘Happy Mother’s Day,'” Kristi said.

In the light of a tragic event, Gavin’s family and teammates’ resiliency and goodness shines brightest.

“It just means so much that they all have my back, and that I can count on them to be there for me when I need them,” Gavin said.

On Saturday, they will run in their first-ever state track meet, and Gavin hopes to be there. The road is long, but for Gavin, there is only hope ahead thanks to his family and friends.

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“People we barely even know — they’ve just been super,” Kristi said. “I don’t even know how to thank them.”

Mike Max