2015 Gary Richie (Large) (Small).jpegGary wrestled three years at Pulaski High School, where he was a state qualifier. His family moved to Barron his senior year, where his dad took the head wrestling position. There, he was a conference champion and placed 5th in the state tournament in 1979. His high school record was 897-19. He attended and wrestled at Augustana College, and then transferred to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. There, he wrestled for the legendary, Byron James. He graduated in 1983 with majors in English and Journalism. In 1984, he accepted a teaching and head wrestling position at Rice Lake High School.
That summer, Gary sustained a traumatic brain injury when he fell from a ladder while painting a barn. He was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital. When he arrived there, he was not breathing on his own. He was placed on life support. A 2 ½ hour surgery was required to remove a massive blood clot, which pressure shut down his body systems. He was in a deep coma and remained there between four and six months. The last phase was in and out of a semi-comatose condition.
Gary spent three months at Sacred Heart Hospital and two months at Sister Kenney Rehab Center/Abbot Northwestern Hospital, where he had intensive rehabilitation. Gary battled his way out of a coma. After 11 surgery procedures, feeding tubes diapers, no walking, no speech, no memory and no communication, Gary continued his battle to get a hold on life.
He lived at home for 5 years and had outpatient therapy. That included physical, speech and occupational therapy. Gary continued his hard work to regain independence and re-entry into community living. During this time, his brother Mike took over the Rice Lake wrestling program and Gary assisted him. He was inspirational to the team.
The two brother coaches wrestled their dad’s Barron team five times and they won three contests. That gave them bragging rights at hunting camp. The contests were hard fought and the setting provided great excitement on both sides, along with a lot of emotion.
Since his recovery, Gary has continued to contribute to society and the community. He volunteered at St. Joe’s School. He continues to help facilitate the Rice Lake Brain Injury Support Group by helping others deal with brain injuries.
Gary has written several pamphlets and books about the effects of brain injury and living with the consequences. They included, The Cross of the Head Injured, Brain Injury on a High Road, Insights from a Brain Injury, Secondary Thoughts of a Brain Injury, Foundation of a Brain Injury and Feelings After a Brain Injury. Those insights tell some of what soldiers coming back from war with brain injury and post traumatic stress have to deal with. The scars, the mental hurt, the pains are real and Gary states, “It’s a cross they have to carry.”
Gary has also helped with brain injury presentations at Jr. High and High Schools. For a number of years, Gary was part of panel discussions at the University of Wisconsin – Stout in classes studying disabilities.
Gary continues to accept the everyday challenges of his disabilities, while at eh same time maintaining a sense of purpose in his life. His thoughtful and appreciative ways are an integral part of who he is. His influence and example of overcoming life’s setbacks continue in the spirit of faith, hope and love. His steps leave footprints and impact in the sands of time.