by Eric Oslund
Cole Daleiden was living the good life during his junior year at Elk River High School. He had been a two-way starter for a football team that was primed to have a breakout season the next fall, and he became an intricate part of the success the baseball team had late in the season.
He was on pace to have a big senior season, and was expecting to further continue the success he had found during the 2015-16 school year. But things would not go as planned.
Daleiden suffered from double curve scoliosis, and while it did not do much to effect his ability to play sports up to this point in time, it started to get worse. The decision was then made for him to go under the knife to straighten out his spin the summer after his junior year of high school – putting his athletic future into question.
“Last summer when I got wind of what he was going to be going through, and really kind of the extent of what it meant for the first time, the way he made it sound and a couple other guys made it sound, he was done,” head baseball coach Ryan Holmgren said. “A kid we were looking at as being one of the guys for us the following year, and now he’s done? That’s a tough blow, that’s a tough loss.”
Two 16-inch titanium rods and 25 screws were put into his back to help straighten his spin, which actually made him half an inch taller than he was before the surgery. And while being taller certainly didn’t hurt him, the fact that he had to miss out on his senior year of high school football certainly did.
Daleiden loves to compete, to be out on the field giving it his all whenever possible, so being forced to the side lines was one of the hardest things he has had to do. Then, to make matters worse, the Elk River football team – better known as Team 125 – went on to have an undefeated season and bring home the first state championship in program history.
“That was tough, especially since all the guys went so far,” he began. “That’s probably been the hardest thing since after the surgery, was that, but those guys still let me be a part of everything, and it was a great experience.”
To make matters worse, Daleiden knew that he would have likely played a big role in the success of the team since he was a two-way starter as a junior. But instead of playing in that title game, on the turf at U.S. Bank Stadium, he was forced to cheer from the sidelines.
It was a difficult time, but instead of pout and think about what could have been, he decided to learn from the experience and turn in into a positive.
“I think I definitely appreciate playing the game more,” he explained. “Sitting back and watching everybody else doing it. I never realized that before, how lucky I was to actually play, and this really let me see that. I appreciate the game more and I try to work harder to push myself too because I know what I can do and I want to be able to get back to that point.”
Since the surgery and recovery went well, the possibility to return to the baseball field for his senior year became a real possibility. There were still plenty of hurdles he needed to get over, but when he found out there was a chance he wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way.
There was one point in time where he was worried his dreams of running out on the diamond as a senior would be dashed. It came when he was working through his rehab and started throwing. He was having a hard time doing it, but he just stuck to his rehab routine and eventually worked his way through those difficulties.
“Just the scare tissue, I had to work some of that out,” he explained when asked what was wrong with the throwing. “And I had to learn how to throw again because the way I was throwing before wasn’t technically right, so I actually have the right way to throw now.”
However, the concern about not being able to play would soon rise again as he began to intensify his throwing. He started out throwing towels for short distances, but after awhile he increased the weight, and the distance, and that’s when the pain returned.
But once again he was able to work his way through the concerns, and actually improve his throwing from where it was a year ago.
“To sit here in the middle of May and say he’s improved his throwing motion and improved his arm strength his senior year, knowing what he went through all offseason, that’s a good feat to accomplish,” Holmgren said. “That’s definitely a big area of growth for him.”
Through all the ups and downs that Daleiden went through since last summer, he has persevered. He set the goal of wanting to play high school baseball one last time before graduating and he reached it, taking the field as the team’s starting left fielder.
Not only that, but his determination to put in the necessary work also left a clear impact with his teammates as they decided to name his as one of the team’s captains.
“I was pretty happy,” Daleiden said of being named captain. “I wanted to show these guys that I can still do it and I want to help this team go as far as we know we can.”
Now, less than a year after having back surgery to straighten out his spine, Daleiden says that he is back to normal. He will still have to go in for routine checkups every once in a while, but he is not worried about that now. Instead, all his focus is on doing everything he can for his team to help bring Elk River another state championship.
Just like the one he watched his teammates bring home while he was still recovering.