After 90 days in Colorado recovering from a severe spinal injury, Hunter Pinke is coming home.
The 22-year-old UND football player, who severed his spine in a ski accident Dec. 27, is flying from Denver to Fargo this afternoon in his first return to North Dakota since the accident.
"It feels pretty good to look back to where you started, and the things you weren't able to do, and now you can look back and see your progress," Pinke said. "It's very rewarding."
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Let’s go HOME! 90 days in Colorado for @hunter_pinke and we’re out of here. #NorthDakota bound today. While there are a lot of logistics, we’re covered in prayer and protection. Thank you, #pinkestrong friends and family! Thank you to the medical and therapy teams and Colorado friends and family who have cared for Hunter and our family. #craighospital #spinalcordinjury #ndlegendary
Despite not having feeling in his legs, Pinke's upbeat attitude and faith-driven message during his recovery has inspired Grand Forks, the UND community, North Dakota and beyond.
Pinke's dad, Nathan, owns Pinke Homes, a construction business. Nathan and his employees have been busy transforming Hunter's grandparents home near Aneta, N.D., to be wheelchair-accessible. Nathan's dad, Eldon, designed the ramp for Hunter and has been building it in Wishek, N.D., while Hunter has been rehabbing.
"I'm excited," Hunter said. "Craig (Hospital) prepares you pretty well for the outside world. I feel prepared and really excited to see family and friends. There's something about being home that feels right and feels good. I look forward to that."
Hunter's rehab at Craig, a spinal injury specialty hospital in the Denver suburb of Englewood, was cut a few weeks short due to concerns of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
Hunter and his family plan to spend the next two weeks in a self-quarantine in Aneta, due to the potential to COVID-19 exposure during commercial flight.
"After two weeks of quarantine, I'm looking forward to seeing the people who supported me so much these past few months," Pinke said. "Being able to share the gratitude with them and laugh and talk and catch up, that's what I'm looking forward to the most."
Hunter's hope is to spend the spring and summer in Aneta before returning to UND in the fall to finish his mechanical engineering degree.
"(The grandparents' farm) is Hunter's favorite place in the world," said Katie Pinke, Hunter's mom. "He wants to figure out how to get in a tractor."
Hunter, a 6-foot-5, 243-pound tight end, was a junior in the 2019 football season. The Wishek, N.D., native was a starter on special teams. As a redshirt freshman, he caught three passes for 54 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown catch at UC Davis.