BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
An incredible story of courage and perseverance culminated for Grant Dykstra during his men's basketball career at Western Washington University.
In 2005-06, the 6-foot-4 Dykstra was a consensus All-American and became the school's career scoring leader. Making those accomplishments inconceivable is that they came after he suffered a life-threatening accident as a two-year-old that nearly cost him his right arm.
Over a 10-year period, Dykstra required 16 surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy to strengthen the arm. He taught himself to shoot left-handed and learned to dribble and pass with a right arm that is shorter than his left.
In recognition of his incredible achievements, which earned him national and international attention, Dykstra was named winner of the 2006 V Foundation Comeback Award, the first non-NCAA Division I student-athlete to earn the honor, and was selected the 2005 U.S. Basketball Writers Association Most Courageous Award winner. In 2013, he was one of 48 former NCAA II student-athletes picked to the NCAA II 40th anniversary Tribute Team.
All of this would not have happened had it not been for decisions made by his father Glen and mother Alice on May 29, 1984.
That morning Grant, playing with his cousins on the family's dairy farm, got his jacket sleeve caught in a grain auger. The machine began pulling his coat and arm into its rotating shaft.
One of the cousins ran for help to the milk parlor where Grant's mother was working. She began running to help her son, but suddenly stopped, and went back to shut off power to the machinery. At the time she only knew her son was hurt, and had no idea what was happening.
Her quick thinking saved Grant's life and his arm.
Alice tried to free her son, but could not. With the coat serving as a tourniquet, it took Grant's father and grandfather 90 minutes to carefully disassemble the machine and free the arm. Paramedics then took him to the hospital where he stayed for nearly a month.
Initially, paramedics had wanted to amputate the arm. Dykstra's father said no.
Grant's arm was broken in three places and required 260 stitches to close the wounds. Doctors used a technique of sewing his arm to his stomach to help with grafting.
Dykstra never did regain full use of his right arm, which is five inches shorter than his left because growth was impaired by the yearly surgeries from age five to 12.
"After my accident happened and during my younger years, I would often think to myself, `Why did this happen to me?' and `What is the purpose of all this?'" said Dykstra. "My whole life, my parents, teachers and members of my church would say, `Everything happens for a reason.' I would accept that, but never fully understood how it applied to me. Philippians 4:13 says, `I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.' That is my testimony. God has a plan for everything, and with Him we can do anything."
The obstacles created by the accident did not stop Dykstra from playing basketball. In fact, his love of the sport proved to be good therapy, helping him rehab faster and more completely.
Dykstra was born into a basketball family. His father was one of the best high school players in Whatcom County history. His brother, Greg, and sister, Shannon, were all-state players in high school. It was Grant's goal to play basketball at a high level and that hastened his recovery.
The hard work and rehabilitation paid off. At Lynden Christian High School near his hometown of Everson, Wash., Dykstra earned Class 2A All-State honors, helping the Lyncs to four state tournament appearances, one resulting in a championship. He set a school season scoring record as a senior and career marks for points, assists and steals.
Dykstra decided to attend WWU and following a redshirt season started every game of his four-year career while finishing with a school record 1,844 points. He also was fourth among Viking leaders in assists with 404, sixth in rebounds with 576, and seventh in steals with 210.
"I watched him play at every level," said then WWU head coach Brad Jackson. "He was always the best player. His `disability' was never an issue."
"What's so amazing is that people would watch him for several games and then ask me, `What's wrong with his hand?' They didn't even notice."
As a senior at WWU, Dykstra averaged 20.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.0 steals, setting a school-record for three-point makes with 101 as the Vikings went 23-7 and reached the West Regional final of the 2006 NCAA II National Tournament. He shot 50.6 percent from the field, including 43.7 percent from three-point range, and 84.5 percent at the free throw line. His average of 3.4 three-point makes a game ranked ninth nationally, and he was 16th in 3-point percentage.
"For him to play at the level he did for four years is a phenomenal achievement for anyone," said Jackson. "But given the severity of his injury, it becomes astounding. The manner in which he competed and represented himself, his family and his teammates was both remarkable and exceptionally inspirational."
How would Dykstra like to be remembered as a player?
"I would want them to say that I was fun to watch and that they liked my heart, desire and hustle," he said. "And I'd like them to say, `He never quit.'"
Dykstra, who earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and finance at WWU in 2006, is now completing his 10th year as a Commercial Loan Officer at Whatcom Educational Credit Union in Bellingham. He also is a youth league coach. He and wife, Tara, have four children: sons Griffin 11, Gannon 9 and Gunnar 7, and daughter Tyra 5.
"I pray that my story reaches those who need encouragement," said Dykstra. "God's plan for me was to use my accident and turn it into a positive. I believe He used my limitation and my basketball talent to inspire others."
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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