Roggen’s Cooksey twins thrive in return to the wrestling mat after tragic car crash
The Cookseys in agriculture
The Cooksey family is known in the Colorado agriculture community for their wheat operations in Roggen. In 1908, Al Cooksey homesteaded in Roggen, and now, his great-grandsons farm there, including Jerry Cooksey, the director for the Colorado Wheat Grower’s Association’s District 4, which includes Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties. The Cookseys — brothers Jerry, Jim and Jeff, father Vern and nephew Dustin — grow about 4,000 acres of wheat each year, along with another 4,500 acres of corn, hay, millet, pumpkins and watermelon. They also run a cow-calf operation. Jerry’s eighteen-year-old sons, Paul and Lyle Cooksey, are active in helping on the farm. After graduating high school, Paul wants to study soil and crop sciences and Lyle wants to study animal agriculture.
The Cookseys File
» Paul and Lyle Cooksey are 18-year-old seniors at Weld Central High School, where they also wrestle.
» On Dec. 20, 2014, they were hit head-on in an automobile crash near their hometown of Roggen.
» Paul suffered a broken left foot and broken right hip socket. Lyle broke his left foot and shattered his right foot.
» The two rehabbed for several months to be able to walk again and ultimately wrestle.
» Their return to the mat was a successful one, as they qualified for the Class 3A Wrestling Championships at the Pepsi Center in Denver last month.
» Paul (132 pounds) went 40-11, and Lyle (138) went 31-13 this past season.
What a difference a year makes
There is perhaps no better illustration of how far Paul and Lyle Cooksey progressed from one year to the next than the contrasting natures of their roles at Weld Central’s 2015 regional wrestling tournament compared to that of last month.
“Seeing both of them in the regional finals this year was huge,” Weld Central coach Jason Schellenberg said. “Last year at regionals, they both led our team out in wheelchairs for the ‘Parade of Teams’ at the beginning of the tournament. This year, they walked out as competitors in the Parade of Champions to start the finals. Those are two moments I wont soon forget as a coach.”
Lyle and Paul were runners-up in their respective brackets at the Class 3A Region 1 tournament on Feb. 13 in Eaton.
December 20, 2014, will always linger in the backs of the minds of 18-year-olds Paul and Lyle Cooksey.
Feb. 18, 2016, however, has claimed a prominent place in the forefront.
During the former date, the Cookseys were involved in a head-on automobile collision that would forever alter their lives.
On the latter date, the Cookseys proved no obstacle — physical or mental — was too much to overcome as the Weld Central seniors and Roggen residents battled back from horrific injuries to return to the Class 3A Wrestling Championships last month at Denver’s Pepsi Center.
Just five days before Christmas about 15 months ago, Lyle was driving the brothers’ Ford F-150 truck eastbound on Colo. 52 with Paul in the passenger seat.
A 58-year-old Keenesburg woman, driving a Saturn Ion westbound, crossed a double-yellow center line and collided head-on with the Cookseys’ pickup.
The resulting injuries required months of rehab and nearly cost Lyle his right leg.
The collision occurred as Paul and Lyle, who were 17 at the time, were driving back home from a wrestling tournament at Weld Central.
“We were just driving, and it just happened so suddenly,” Lyle said. “The other car was right in our lane and hit us.
“Right before it happened, we looked at each other, and it happened. I woke up and we crawled out of there. … Right when it happened, it seemed like it was kind of slow. Then, after we hit, then it happened real fast.”
The woman, Melody Petre, died. Lyle and Paul were rushed to University Hospital in Aurora with serious injuries.
Paul suffered a broken left foot and a broken right hip socket. Lyle had a broken left foot and a shattered right foot.
The two were wheelchair-bound for months and had to endure a lengthy recovery process just to get back on their feet, much less get back on the wrestling mat.
“It has been humbling, and they were very fortunate to survive it,” Paul and Lyle’s father, Jerry, said. “It wasn’t their time. So we’re just grateful they made it through it and they’re moving on with life.”
“I remember all of it very vividly”
The memories of the night the car crash occurred are burned in the mind of Paul and Lyle’s mother, Damaris.
“I remember all of it very vividly,” Damaris said. “A lot of miracles occurred that night. Their truck didn’t roll further than it did. It only rolled a quarter of a turn. Neither one of them was wearing seatbeats.”
Lyle was thrown into the truck’s backseat, and the vehicle’s airbag likely saved his life, Damaris said.
Emergency crews were quick to respond as they were at Weld Central for the wrestling tournament and subsequent basketball games that night.
“The first responders were right there,” Damaris said. “They were at the high school 2 miles away.”
The fire chief and head Emergency Medical Technician Thomas Beach was interacting with the Cooksey brothers just moments before the car crash. He is a volunteer wrestling coach for Weld Central.
“When he heard where the accident was, he said to me later, ‘I knew I had to go because I knew I would know the people involved. I had to get there,’ ” Damaris said.
“Oh, trust me. He’s not alone.”
Damaris rode in the ambulance with her two sons to the hospital.
On the way, Damaris posted on Facebook that her sons had been in a car crash and they were heading to the hospital, asking for prayers from friends.
Moments later, there were about 20 concerned supporters at the hospital. Weld Central head wrestling coach Jason Schellenberg was among the first to arrive.
Paul remained in the emergency room while Damaris accompanied Lyle to an upstairs unit where he would undergo emergency surgery to save his foot and leg.
A member of the staff asked if Damaris should go back downstairs so that Paul wouldn’t be alone during such a trying time.
“The nurse who had brought us upstairs said, ‘Oh, trust me. He is not alone,’ ” Damaris recalled. “To have that kind of immediate outpouring and support from friends and from the wrestling coaches … It’s very heartwarming.”
Lyle and Paul remained in the hospital for about 10 days before beginning their lengthy rehabilitation process.
For the first month, people in the community brought meals to the Cooksey household so Damaris didn’t have to cook.
“Basically, they were two infants that could talk,” Damaris said of her sons’ state at that time. “They were totally helpless, but they sure could demand. And (they were) angry and frustrated.”
Paul and Lyle had wrestled virtually their entire lives, and they were distraught to miss the final two months of their junior seasons.
“It just made me that much more hungry to get out there and compete, missing my junior season,” Lyle said.
Paul added, “We were pretty determined just to be able to come back (this winter) because it was our final year of our career.”
But the path back to the wrestling mat was a difficult one and it was far from a sure thing.
They were homebound and in wheelchairs for months after the car crash.
Until March 2015, Paul couldn’t put any weight on his left foot, and his doctors wanted him to limit the weight he put on his hip. He returned to school part time toward the end of March.
Lyle, on the other hand, wasn’t able to start putting weight on his left foot until April before gradually beginning to put weight on his right foot, which was injured more severely.
“And, Lyle was told no high-impact anything on that foot ever: ‘We saved your foot,’ ” Damaris said. “And, as a mom, to hear that when your kid is 17 and you think, ‘Holy cow. No pickup basketball games. No flag football and intramurals in college. No running through the airport to get a plane. No playing with your kid in the yard.’
“It certainly is limiting. But, he worked his way back through that and understands the prognosis and the limitations he has.”
Lyle refused to accept the initial dire prognosis, as he and Paul remained determined to return to the wrestling mat for their senior seasons.
“I knew I was going to find a way somehow to be out there,” he said.
With an inherent bond unique of twins, Jerry said Paul and Lyle were each other’s biggest supporters.
“They’ve been supportive of each other, as well,” Jerry said. “With each brother going through the same similar situation, they were there to support each other. And, that was helpful for sure. They’ve grown and built character. It’s just impressive.”
Back on the mat
Paul began wrestling again in June, while Lyle couldn’t return until October, just two months before the high school season began.
Wrestling is often a year-round sport for those who excel. So, naturally, the Cookseys had a lot of catching up to do if they were going to reach their goal of wrestling in the state tournament during their senior seasons.
“We were pretty determined just to be able to come back because it was our final year of our career,” Paul said.
To further complicate matters, Lyle hurt his back right before Thanksgiving and had to sit out the first tournament of the season.
But Lyle made sure his latest setback was merely a speed bump rather than a roadblock.
Lyle and Paul’s return to wrestling was a remarkable one.
Paul, wrestling at 132 pounds, went 40-11, while Lyle (138 pounds) was 31-13.
“They both were able to turn a huge setback into a positive,” Schellenberg said. “A lot of young men, even adults, could use a tragedy like this as an excuse or a ‘crutch’ to make bad decisions and fall off track. Both Lyle and Paul were able to overcome their adversity and stay on track.”
Both qualified for the Class 3A Wrestling Championships last month at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Paul even earned a spot on the championship podium, placing sixth in his weight class.
“I’m beyond proud,” Damaris said. “I really can’t put it into words what it meant to see them there, knowing their hard work and their determination and the pain that they still go through every day. To have them set that goal and being able to achieve that: wow.”
But still, their senior campaign was full of anxious moments for their parents, especially when Lyle was on the mat.
“It was painful sometimes to watch (Lyle) wrestle because feet are such an important part of wrestling moves; you never know if an opponent was targeting his right foot or if they were just wrestling,” Damaris said. “It was painful to watch him wrestle at times when it looks like people were really going after that (foot).”
Still, Jerry said he and Damaris were grateful that wrestling was able to provide their sons that extra push they needed to battle back from their severe injuries.
“Without wrestling, they would have come back, but they wouldn’t have had the urgency to it,” Jerry said. “It just gave them motivation to come back. They’ve been wrestling since they were small, and they always wanted to go and compete at the state tournament.”
Their trip to the Pepsi Center for the state tournament was Paul’s first and Lyle’s second.
“It was pretty exciting just to know that I was going to be out there in front of everybody in the biggest tournament in Colorado,” said Lyle, who also qualified for state as a sophomore.
A lasting impact
Damaris said she and Jerry have tried to encourage their sons to reap positives from the past 14 months and recognize how much they have grown from overcoming such an ordeal.
Selling them on such hasn’t always been easy, though.
“Throughout the wrestling season, especially towards the end, if either one of them had lost a match and was down about it — ‘I should have done this and could have done that’ — I just said, ‘You know what? You are better than everyone else out there because you could not walk a year ago. … You have fought your way back and look at how good you are.’ ”
Paul and Lyle said their long roads back to the wrestling mat gave them a new appreciation of wrestling and altered their outlook on life.
“It kind of makes you appreciate every wrestling match you have,” Paul said.
Lyle added, “And, appreciate being able to walk. … You take for granted even just getting into a car, or something; climbing up some steps, which you can’t do if you can’t walk.”
Lyle and Paul are looking at colleges. Intriguing among the possibilities: Going to nearby Northeastern Junior College in Sterling where they could wrestle and pursue career paths in agriculture or animal science.
Damaris said it might be years before her two sons can fully process all that they’ve been through and how far they have come to restore normalcy into their lives.
“One of (their) coaches said to me, ‘You know, they don’t have the maturity level yet to realize what they have done, but give them a couple years and they’re going to look back on this and say, ‘Holy cow,’ ” she said. ❖