MISSOULA — When Missoula Hellgate won the boys Class AA state basketball championship last weekend in Butte, it was the peak of a long journey for Donovyn Headswift.
The senior forward for the Knights was huge in the championship game against Billings West as he scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
"Last weekend was just mind-blowing," Headswift said. "It still hasn't hit me yet."
It was a full-circle moment, because two years ago, Headswift wouldn't have thought that opportunity possible.
While visiting family back in Lame Deer over Christmas his sophomore year, Headswift experienced a traumatic ATV accident that would severely alter his life. He was hunting with members of his family, and on the trip they were ascending a steep hill, but ran over a boulder that tipped the vehicle over with Headswift riding in the back.
"I built up the courage to lift up my legs and push it off, and after that I was out for a good five minutes or so, then when I came to I was looking around and I couldn't move at all," Headswift said. "I couldn't move my entire body, and the only part I could move was my head and try to see where everybody else was at, but I couldn't lift up my body.
"Just hearing my brothers and them calling out for help, crying, and it made me feel useless at that time, at that moment and place because I was their older brother and it was my duty to go and help them and help out my grandpa, so I just lay there and started crying calling out for help because I couldn't move."
The group was out hunting a few miles away from service, so the wait for help was long, and agonizing.
Unable to move, Headswift wanted to help, but knew he also had to stay strong for those around him
"I was in the back with my cousin and two younger brothers, just telling them to stay calm, trying to build that leadership there for them and make them trust me even though I was injured," he recalled.
The result was a fractured hip, and the road to recovery, a long one.
"It was mostly a mental process and just telling myself I'm one of the lucky ones, and just put that in my mindset that I was one of the lucky ones and there's a reason why I was able to recover this fast, and why it was just a mild fracture and not like a two-year long fracture," Headswift said.
Headswift was relegated to a wheelchair for the remainder of his sophomore year while he took classes online. After about five months, he was able to walk again normally.
"So I just put it in my mind that I'm going to become better than who I was during the process," Headswift said. "I thought I was done for. I thought my basketball career was over. I thought I wasn't going to be able to walk again and just having that doubt in my mind during the process really put me down."
The injury caused him to miss school, so he also fell behind. So while working back from the physical trauma, Headswift had to battle the mental challenges of what he went through while also getting back on track in the classroom.
He also dealt with the loss of family members during his recovery, which added to his struggles. But through all of that, Headswift was able to play sparingly at the junior varsity level as a junior before getting some minutes on varsity in the latter half of that season as he got used to playing at full-speed with his body again after his recovery. However, an ankle injury that year also sidelined him, adding more adversity in his way.
But his family and extended support system was there all the way through.
"Having them push me, and helping me strive for more and helping me strive for my heath, and they told me that they see me struggling and so they just wondered what was best for me," Headswift said. "From then, to now, I'm forever grateful for them, because if it wasn't for them, I don't think I would be able to stay in school or stay playing sports because they helped me whenever I needed help. Everybody else, friends, coaches, everybody pushed me to keep moving and just use this as motivation."
"His perseverance coming back from not just the physical injury, but also the mental piece of missing school, getting behind and not quitting when he was down," Hellgate head coach Jeff Hays said. "He battled through a lot. He missed out on those opportunities at the varsity level but he persevered and he was spectacular this season. We got to see his growth from the beginning of the season to the end was just tremendous."
All of those obstacles culminated in him getting back on track in every aspect of his life, and as a senior he started every game on the court for Hellgate as they won the school's first outright title since 2013. Headswift also plays baseball for the Missoula Mavericks, and is weighing both sports as possibilities at the college level.
But starring in the championship game for the Knights was the storybook ending to a long, arduous journey of a remarkable comeback.
"Championship game was where I really felt like I can strive for more after putting up that performance," Headswift said. "Looking back at it now is like I left that court how I wanted to, and I'm just glad that my performance on the court was how everybody sees me now and expected of me.
"For me, that's what all of my hard work was put into, and school-wise too. Being able to make it to class, passing, being able to have good grades is an all for me. Having my family there with me throughout the ride, and having their support and everybody else's support, that's really what meant the most for me."
"We've definitely had players who have come back from injuries, but his growth from the beginning of this year to the end, that's been off the charts," Hays added. "I don't think I've seen that level of growth in a single season before. It's something that we all strive for. We're trying to provide the best opportunities for the kids and to see the joy on those kid's faces, and the way they celebrated with and for each other is something I'll always cherish, and I know they will too."
And once it was done, Headswift got to celebrate with everyone who helped him along the way.
"It's still very emotional for me just seeing how much I've overcome and achieved over the past three years, and how much I had to deal with and just seeing how much support I have in the long run after all of this was going on," Headswift said. "I know for me, I still have a lot more to go so I'm just waiting for that to come.
"This season, the way I see it now, we were an unstoppable team that has an unbreakable bond."