Nelson brothers: Through tragedy they have triumphed
Most people know the Nelson brothers, Trevor and Collin, as standout athletes and students at St. Croix Central High School.
In becoming the highly respected students they are, they have endured the most unthinkable of all tragedies, losing their mother in a motorcycle accident. Their father was badly injured in the accident, leaving the middle school-aged brothers to help in his lengthy rehabilitation.
Glen and Julie Nelson were riding their motorcycle in March 2012, when a vehicle turned in front of them. They were both wearing helmets, but Julie died from her injuries and Glen suffered massive injuries. Glen said that he was kept in an induced coma for 18 days following the accident, with doctors performing a surgery nearly every day to treat his many broken bones and other injuries.
Once Glen came out of the coma and regained his bearings, the doctors told him that Julie had died in the accident. One of Glen's first decisions was to have a talk with his sons.
"As far as us," he told Trevor and Collin, "nothing has changed. We'll still keep our priorities."
And those priorities meant the boys would still be expected to perform well academically and to be respectful and responsible.
"We had a plan, in the way we chose to raise the kids," Glen said.
Community steps up
Glen spent more than three months in the hospital following the accident, getting released July 4, 2012. In the interim, and the months following his return home, the St. Croix Central community took on the responsibility of making sure the boys were cared for.
"I'm so fortunate," Glen said. "What this community did...the teachers, the school sports programs, the churches and church groups."
He said a meal program was set up so that he and the boys were fed every day. Friends, community members and relatives made sure the boys got to school every day, that they got to the hospital frequently to see Glen, and there were plans set so the boys had somewhere to be every weekend.
A CaringBridge site was also set up for Glen. In the months he was hospitalized, he couldn't do much physically, but he could read. He said the well wishes, plus the information he was getting from the schools about the boys, gave him plenty of motivation in his recovery.
"People helped us live," Collin, a junior at Central, said of the community support in the first months following the accident.
Trevor, a SCC senior, agreed, saying "it was hard for a seventh grade kid to cook for a family of three."
Glen said the only part of his body that came out of the accident uninjured was his left leg. He still suffers lingering issues, but you'd never know it from his demeanor. He is able to work on a very limited basis, helping on a neighbor's farm.
In this interview, the boys said they swayed between a number of emotions in discussing the experiences of those first months. They recalled Glen being in a wheelchair for the first several months, and how community members and relatives helped to get him to his numerous doctor appointments. They also built ramps so Glen could navigate the wheelchair into and around the house.
"We did master the wheelchair," Collin said in a light-hearted moment.
The jokester and the sidekick
The boys are remarkably well adjusted for going through such difficulties. Trevor is the more outgoing of the two, while Collin is more introspective. One teacher described them as Trevor being the jokester and Collin being the perfect sidekick to set up his jokes. Both boys figured out quickly after the accident that they needed each other.
"When dad was in the hospital, all we had was each other," Trevor said.
Neither one has has dwelled on the difficulties that life has thrown their way.
"You've got to keep moving," Collin said. "There are still tough times. You've got to believe you'll make it through."
Sports is something both boys have leaned on heavily. They were close in middle school, but Glen and several coaches said they became inseparable in high school, where they were teammates nearly every season of the year.
Ben Lamb is a middle school teacher and track coach at St. Croix Central and has known the boys since before the accident.
"They're more twins than brothers. They are truly special kids," Lamb said.
The brothers were two of the key members of St. Croix Central's 2016 WIAA Division 4 state championship football team. Trevor earned all-state honors as the team's big play defensive end and tight end. Collin won the team's quarterbacking job in the 2016 preseason and led the Panthers to the state championship. Central football coach Tony DiSalvo relayed the story of the state championship game, when Collin suffered a separated shoulder early in the game.
"He said 'You are not taking me out of this game,'" DiSalvo recalled.
DiSalvo, also a middle school teacher, was friends of the family before the accident.
"The three of them have been through hell and back and you'd never know it. Glen is a fantastic man. He barely made it out alive. I've never seen anyone as banged up in my life," DiSalvo said.
'...up there watching us.'
The boys are religious and they say it helped them in dealing with their mother's death.
"Mom is up there watching us. She'll be there for the graduations, weddings, everything," Trevor said.
DiSalvo said he will always remember one special moment with Trevor. It came after St. Croix Central defeated Little Chute in the Division 4 sectional championship game, locking the Panthers into an appearance in the state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. After the sectional plaque presentation, Trevor broke down as he hugged his coach, telling him that the win came on his mom's birthday.
"I'd never seen Trevor break down until then," DiSalvo said.