Thankful for life
Who would think a broken toe could be something to be thankful for - a key to saving a life and realizing a dream. But a broken toe at work did just that for a 20-year-old Matt Stone. Stone grew up in Staples. He graduated in 2013 from Staples-Mo...
Who would think a broken toe could be something to be thankful for - a key to saving a life and realizing a dream.
But a broken toe at work did just that for a 20-year-old Matt Stone.
Stone grew up in Staples. He graduated in 2013 from Staples-Motley High School and went to school for welding and fabrication at Central Lakes College. After college, he completed an internship and returned to the Brainerd lakes area to get more experience in the housing industry. That led to a job at Menards in Baxter. On July 15, Stone went to see the doctor with a broken toe. While there, he mentioned a nagging, dry cough that wouldn't go away. He had visible bruising on his chest. He was fatigued but had no idea how desperate things really were. The doctor told him it was probably pneumonia, but scheduled a chest X-ray to get a better look. What it revealed was stunning.
There was a large mass in the center of Stone's chest. The mass - a large B-cell lymphoma - was 15 centimeters by 10 centimeters and 6 centimeters deep. It was compressing Stone's heart, lungs, major arteries and bronchial tubes. The fluid wasn't draining out of his head and neck.
It wasn't until recently that Stone asked his doctor just how long he would have lived if he hadn't come in for that broken toe.
"He gave me about two weeks, so I'm extremely blessed to have everything work out the way it did."
Surgery wasn't an option. They started chemotherapy July 25. Within 10 days of getting treatment, Stone felt a reduction in symptoms. The treatment included chemotherapy infusion over 24 hours for six days followed by a two-week rest period in between.
"I firmly believe this is a mental battle and unfortunately or fortunately I already experienced a mental battle," Stone said.
In 2011, Stone was on his way to visit friends and hockey teammates in Wadena. Hockey was a huge part of his life. He'd been playing for 13 years and was in his sophomore year as a defenseman for Wadena. But all that changed in an instant.
"I had a motorcycle accident that almost killed me and ended up making me retire from hockey," Stone said. "A car never saw me and pulled out in front of me, I ended up in the ICU for two weeks and on bed rest for two months after that."
Stone shattered his knee, bruised his lung, had glass in his neck and broke two bones in his arm. The collision vaulted him over the car. The doctor told him his helmet saved his life, but he may not be able to run again and playing hockey was over. Stone said he had to swallow the loss of hockey in his life but he wasn't going to let anyone tell him he wouldn't run again. The first time he walked across the road from his house to a nearby field put down his crutches and went as far as he could. It was a start. He could run again. He took a strength training class and, while it was a long haul, started getting stronger.
"The whole mental mindset of not giving up and always having your eyes focused on the end of the road was something I was already accustomed to to heading into this," Stone said of his crash and now his battle with cancer. "So actually when I was diagnosed on the 25th it was a relief to me because at that point we had a plan. I knew there was a potential for it to work and I knew what I had to do."
It also gave him time to think about what he wanted to do. He worked on a business model for welding and fabrication, incorporating his experience at Menards. Stone focused on the positive.
For his 21st birthday, his sister asked what he really wanted. He knew the answer. He wanted to be part of rally car racing, or at least have an opportunity to be in a rally car. The racing pits a driver's endurance and skills over two-days through rough, remote terrain and in all kinds of weather. The expense related to pursuing the dream doused it but never put the flame out entirely. Stone said he thought maybe he could delay it after he had a good-paying job. But it hadn't died and now he thought why not. He sat down and expressed his desire to be have that rally car racing experience in a video, which he posted on his Facebook page. Within 24 hours he had a response and a lot of it.
"I got a response from just about the entire rally community and I was reached out by multiple rally professionals here in the U.S., as well as some of the coordinators from some of the main governing bodies in the U.S.," Stone said.
Matt Brandenburg, founder of Brakim Racing out of Dayton, Ohio, saw the video when a fan tagged him asking if he could help with Stone's dream.
"I saw the video and I thought let's try to reach out," Brandenburg said.
He said the rally community is fairly large there are just five or six training facilities. Brandenburg said he had the cars and the facility and thought if he could help someone that easily, why not do it. Soon everyone was pitching in to offer to provide transportation and help. Brandenburg facilitated a 10-day trip to Ohio where Stone had his first ride in a rally car. Brandenburg taught him to drive. Stone went on to Michigan where he spent the week with FY Racing and riding with them during testing for Lake Superior Performance Rally. Stone received a VIP experience at the rally.
"It was incredible," Stone said of the experience. "From the minute I started talking to people and messaging them back on Facebook, I realized this wasn't like any other competitive sport."
During maintenance checks between stages, if one team was missing a part, other teams offered to help them reach the finish line.
"Everybody is there to have fun and to see everybody succeed," Stone said. "It is really by far the most extreme community and family atmosphere you could ever find.
"I was hooked even before I made it to the racetrack. As soon as I got behind the wheel, as soon as I got to meet these people in person, there was no doubt in my mind this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
Brandenburg described Stone as genuine and positive, the kind of young man who is easy to get to know and who makes anyone who do know him want to fight for him. Jumping into a car and doing well is hard to do, Brandenburg said.
"I thought he did really well," Brandenburg said of Stone. "Most people get really scared and back off or push really hard and go past where the car is supposed to go."
Stone pushed the car.
"He picked it up real quick," Brandenburg said. "He was good behind the wheel. It mostly takes commitment and being able to work past your fear and he's got that down."
Stone did his research, talked to other drivers and studied for weeks in advance. Brandenburg said he was committed and serious.
Brandenburg offered Stone a position with Brakim Racing for 2016. It's not the kind of racing that is easy to make a living from. Brandenburg said most people have other jobs and race on the side. While the rally car sport is growing in the U.S., it is a smaller group and getting sponsorships it not easy. But Stone was already breaking ground.
"He's already got more sponsors than most of the teams I know that are actively running," Brandenburg said. "You can tell he is one of the really good people. ... Anyone who would get to know him would want to fight with him."
Stone is planning to relocate to Ohio early next year. He never expected a video on Facebook with a 21st birthday wish to change the course of his life.
"I just wanted to go for a ride in a rally car and now I've got a rally career. I mean it's insane I don't know any other way to put it."
In the days before Thanksgiving, the 21-year-old received other good news. His cancer is in remission. He has one more round of chemotherapy to go through.
"Then I'll be done," he said from his home in Staples, where he was spending Thanksgiving with his family.
When the rally experience started, Stone said he felt his energy double.
"I was focused on something I was highly passionate about, but never expected to be able to do it for years. It was really special."
He created Facebook page Fight2Rally "to support and advocate the fight against cancer via the sport of Rally Racing." The Fight2Rally is his branch of Brakim Racing. Stone plans to advocate for cancer patients and the organizations that help them, that have helped him, like the Angel Foundation and American Cancer Society among others.
"Because a lot of people have helped me get through this. A lot of people aren't aware of how much help is out there and how much people are willing to help. This is my way of giving back."
And this holiday season will have new meaning for the fledgling rally car racer.
"I will get a Christmas present of being cancer free and New Year's will have a completely new to me."
RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .
Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyXN_sy4ezk and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nt9flfVD2hk to find out more about rally car racing and see Matt Stone in action.
Correction: This story was corrected to reflect what Matt Brandenburg meant, he said the rally community training opportunities were small with five or six team facilities in the nation. The story initially said the rally community was small with five or six teams and facilities. There are five or six facilities but hundreds of teams. Also information was added to include the racing team Matthew Stone rode with before going to the Lake Superior Performance Rally.