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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 31 2013

Shooting for a bright future: Charley Weber rebuilding his life after year of hard-won recovery

WEST FARGO – Knees bent, arms up and hands and feet far apart, Charley Weber stutter-steps back and forth in a line with his Sheyenne High School junior varsity basketball teammates.

The shoot-arounds and easy drills are over.

As the sweat beads on Charley’s brow and his breath comes in a measured pant, now is the time to build endurance.

It is Christmas vacation and the 16-year-old sophomore is spending Friday afternoon, on perhaps the sunniest, warmest day of a frigid winter, practicing defense and shooting hoops.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unless, of course, he could be wrestling or playing football.

It was a year ago New Year’s Eve that he lay in a field near Horace, close to death after a snowmobile crash. So close that when he arrived at Fargo’s Essentia Health, doctors put a transplant team on call.

Charley has learned patience the hard way in a year of hard-won recovery through hundreds of hours of physical and speech therapy. He’s also gained a sense of mortality few high school sophomores have.

“I appreciate the little things more now. I don’t know how many little things more I’ll get. It might happen again,” Charley said. “It’s made me appreciate life a lot more.”

For his parents, Jeff and Michelle Weber, it’s been a journey of prayer, faith and hope.

“The night it happened, I did ask God to give him back to us. I’d do whatever it took to raise him again. I just wanted him in our lives,” Michelle said. “I’ve gotten that. We take it a day at a time. And I think he’s doing beautifully.”

About 10:30 p.m. last New Year’s Eve, Charley was riding on the back of a buddy’s snowmobile near Horace when their speeding sled hit a culvert on a field approach.

Both youths were rocketed from the sled and seriously injured. Charley, who was thrown 25 to 30 feet, suffered a traumatic brain injury. First responders and doctors at Essentia saved his life.

Then he was transferred to Sanford Health, where he relearned to walk and do other tasks, gradually being introduced to larger groups and more stimulus as his brain healed.

By late February, when The Forum caught up to him, he was working out under the guidance of a physical therapist at the Sanford Power Center in south Fargo.

His father, Jeff, called his son’s speedy recovery a miracle.

“It’s like a fire in the house. You don’t think it will happen to you,” Jeff said. “As a family, we’ve come together with it and taken it one day at a time.”

In the meantime, the recovery rolled ahead.

By March, Charley’s eyesight cleared, and he was able to doff glasses used to correct double vision.

Through the summer and fall, workouts put muscle back on his frame.

In the hospital, his weight had dropped into the 140s at his physical low point. He’s now tops 6 feet and 180 pounds.

Charley got his driver’s license in November. And he’s down to speech therapy every other week.

In mid-January, his team of doctors plans to confer again and let him know whether he can return to competitive sports, and just how active he can be.

Playing sports has been the goal getting Charley through the ups and downs of recovery.

“The team is kind of like another family. When you lose a family, that’s hard,” he said.

“That’s what I’ve wanted since the first day that I officially woke up in the hospital,” Charley said. “I can’t wait to get back out there. On the court, on the mat, whatever the doctors approve me for.”

Basketball looks like a distinct possibility. Wrestling is an unknown. Football is probably out, Charley said. Too high of a risk of concussion and head injury, he said.

As far as a career goal, Charley said he’s considering becoming a physical trainer so he can help other people get through their life challenges.

“To overcome something like I have, it’s a humble feeling. It’s kind of awesome. I don’t know, it’s a good feeling for sure.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583