HOWARD LAKE – Gavin Krtizeck’s life changed in an instant. At one point, he was just a teenager who recently got his license. That all changed when he was injured in a car accident shortly before the Section 4A True Team Meet a year ago. Fast forward to today, and the junior sprinter for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted track and field team is back to being one of the team’s top sprinters, and one of the best in the area as well.
Through the accident, the recovery, and the return, Kritzeck was able to rally his team together and work his way back to being a part of the team once again during his junior season. Being able to run, practice, and compete with his teammates is something Gavin has worked hard to accomplish this past year.
A WORLD SHAKEN
On the evening of May 7, 2016, the Kritzeck family was shaken. Gavin was in a one-vehicle car accident that evening, and suffered major injuries. Kritzeck was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center.
In the accident, Kritzeck suffered a fractured spine which took surgery to repair. The surgery lasted multiple hours as doctors put screws and pins in his spine to help heal the damage. Kritzeck also suffered other minor injuries, but in the words of the doctors, he was lucky to be alive.
Following the surgery, doctors decided a halo was necessary to keep Gavin’s head still so that his fractured vertebrates in his neck could heal. Other injuries Gavin suffered and had to overcome included fractured ribs, a broken sternum, and a bruised lung.
When Gavin arrived at the hospital, he was unable to feel his legs. According to a post on Gavin’s Caring Bridge page, Gavin’s family said that the neurosurgeon wasn’t sure why the feeling came back to his legs, other than it was a miracle.
With the feeling back in his legs, the recovery for Gavin began.
THE RECOVERY BEGINS
The recovery process for Gavin was slow and painful. Not only was he dealing with major injuries, he was away from the team he wanted to be with so much.
Shortly after the surgery and having his halo added, Gavin began physical therapy. Although physical therapy starter well for him, it wasn’t always easy. The more Gavin did, the more pain he felt the next day.
“It was kind of tough,” Gavin said about completing physical therapy and being patient as he healed. “I knew what I had to do to be able to get back to where I was. That kind of pushed me to work harder.”
A few days later, Gavin began to walk around his bed and around his floor at the hospital. As he began to walk more and more, families and doctors were seeing improvement each and every day.
Eventually, Gavin was released from the hospital, but not before he was an inspiration to his team, his school, and his community.
AN INSPIRATION TO ALL
The next day following Gavin’s surgery, the HLWW track and field team competed in the Section True Team Meet without one of their top sprinters, and without one of their friends.
The team wore orange shirts with the words, “Team Gavin” proudly displayed across them. While Gavin continued to work hard to make a full recovery, his team was thinking of him.
After an emotional practice on Monday when the team heard the news, the Lakers rallied around Gavin as they won the True Team Meet for the first time in school history. They won it for their teammate.
“Honestly, that was one of the most special meets I’ll probably ever have in my career,” Lakers coach Andy Hertwig said. “The emotions of Monday’s practice, where kids were crying, only to come back Tuesday and have personal bests after personal bests. It was honestly so special. There’s no other way to put it. It was so exciting. Not only the team, but the community. Everyone was wearing the orange team Gavin shirts. It was something I’ll never forget.”
“I think that was the main reason we went last year,” teammate and friend Brennan Barth said. “He was our main motivation. It was a big deal.”
After winning the Section True Team Meet, members of the team, along with the trophy, made appearances in Gavin’s room. Despite not being able to be there to support his team, knowing his team was thinking of him meant everything to Gavin.
“It meant a lot to me that they were supporting me,” Gavin said. “It showed me how much they have my back and stuff.”
While still working through physical therapy, Gavin was able to attend the State True Team meet in person as he was able to get away from the hospital for a bit.
“That felt good to be there for them after everything they did for me,” Gavin said about attending the state meet. “I was just glad I could support them.”
Flash forward to today, and Gavin is back as one of the top sprinters on the team, and one of the best in the conference. Although there were struggles and pain along the way, Gavin knew he would be able to get back to the sport he loves.
“Once I got out of the hospital, I knew that eventually that if I worked hard, I’d be able to get back,” Gavin said. “It’s great just to be back. All my teammates make it just a bunch of fun just to be on the team. It felt great to be back and running and everything.”
Not much has changed since Gavin returned to the team this spring. According to coach Hertwig, Gavin continues to show a work effort that is unmatched by anybody.
“It’s funny because he still has that same drive,” Hertwig said about the difference between Gavin before the accident and after. “He worked unbelievably hard last year as a sophomore to put himself in a situation to be All-Conference. I still see that same drive, but maybe I see just a little bit more of a chip on his shoulder. While he’s racing, or even during a workout, I’ll see just a little bit more of a fight. He’s always been a really hard worker, but I maybe just see it a little more now. In some races, it’s just like, I want this more than you do.”
That extra fight and work Gavin puts in doesn’t go unnoticed. Whether it’s his friends, teammates, or peers, there was no doubt in their minds that Gavin would be back to his old self.
“The dude is like unbreakable,” Barth said. “That’s what it’s about. Even his spirit and everything he does, you can’t match that. That’s just what he’s about. That’s what has impressed me the most about him.”
“It’s crazy,” teammate and friend Noah Bundrock said. “I don’t understand how he did it. I saw him lifting all throughout the fall and all through spring. It’s pretty crazy.”
While having one of your top sprinters back is always a plus. It’s the friendships, motivation, and leadership that Gavin brings to the table that has his coach and teammates glad he’s back.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Barth said. “It’s cool to hang out with him. It’s nice to have him around and not in the halo, neck brace, and all that stuff. You get to see who he was before.”
“He’s not necessarily the most vocal guy, but he definitely leads by example,” Hertwig said. “You will see if someone is not doing what they should be doing, he will be quick to get on them and say hey, let’s get going. He knows what it takes to be successful. He’s worked from basically not being able to walk, to would have been All-Conference had he not blown out his hamstring in the final 10 meters.”
Not only has Gavin earned the respect and affection of his friends and teammates, the conference and area teams have admired him as well, and rightfully so.
“It’s amazing,” Hertwig said. “It really is. I got some emails from opposing coaches too that were just saying so happy to see Gavin back on the track. One coach even said, happy to see him back out on the track, maybe not so happy to see him kicking our butts for the rest of the year. The level of respect he has throughout the conference says what kind of athlete and character he has.”
Gavin came up just short of his ultimate goal of being All-Conference as he blew out his hamstring at the conference meet this past week. That doesn’t mean he’s done though. He has a chance to be back for the Sub-Section meet coming up May 23. Even with the injury, there’s no doubt that he’ll be working hard to get back to try and help his team.
“Probably the biggest thing, he is the hardest worker,” Hertwig said. “He gets pissed off if he gets beat in any rep. There’s a lot of times where I’ll jump in and do the workouts with him, and he will not let me beat him ever. That just sets the tone right there.”
What ever happens to the Lakers and Gavin at the Sub-Section meet, he’ll know he did everything he could to get back to doing what he loves the most. In the end, it’s the relationships, memories, and fun that Gavin created that mean much more.
“They mean a lot to me,” Gavin said about all the support, memories, and friends he’s had over a crazy past year. “I know that if I ever need anything, they’ll be right there for me.”