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Ryan Natelborg: Cross country runner continues to inspire team after swimming accident left him paralyzed

The runner suffered an accident that left him immobile just two days before the start of the season's practice
Ryan Natelborg can now move his limbs to some extent (Gofundme)
Ryan Natelborg can now move his limbs to some extent (Gofundme)

PELLA, IOWA: After breaking a 14-year streak last year and making it to the State Meet, the Pella Christian cross country team is having another fantastic season this year. However, the team is without one junior player from last season - Ryan Natelborg, who is still reeling from a terrible accident that effectively paralyzed him.

Just two days before the start of practice on July 30, Ryan and his friends were traveling in Wisconsin. Ryan was hanging out at the beach on Devils Lake when he decided to plunge in, but things went horrifically wrong. Ryan hit his head on the sand and found himself face down in the water, unable to move.


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Fortunately, he was saved after almost two minutes by teammates and a nearby nurse who grabbed him up and dragged him to shore. Ryan underwent emergency surgery after being rushed to the hospital, but he still had a shattered C5 vertebra, which left him paralyzed.

Ryan has been receiving rehabilitation in Colorado for the past few months, and he is now able to use his hands and arms to some extent. The challenge, however, is learning how to manage daily life with a limited range of motion.

Ryan's teammates have devoted the entire season to him, and he communicates with the squad and coaches every day. Anyone he interacts with finds inspiration from his cheerful outlook and demeanor. Ryan is still very much a member of the squad, according to head coach Mike Buchheit, who is looking forward to talking to him even if he won't be able to run with the team anymore.

“I know he misses the running, and his family misses the running, and in a lot of ways you miss the normal things that you were doing. Ryan was very prepared for this season and had his bag packed and ready for the cross country season to happen, but he’s still part of this team and we’re going to do everything we can to wrap our team around him. We’ve got a run for Ryan theme, and he’s been a true warrior in terms of how he’s been competing to make some little things really happen in his favor since this accident and at some point, I’m sure I’ll get a chance to talk to Ryan directly and give that kid a hug. But yeah, you develop a close relationship,” Buchheit told WHO13

Eagles Athletic Director Dan Branderhorst added that they are thinking of Ryan and sending him good wishes. Branderhorst said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with Ryan and the Natelborg family. They are such a great family and Ryan is a leader for that, that team and that program. And so, Ryan, if you hear this by chance, we’re thinking of you, we’re praying for you, and we wish you the best.”