HAMILTON — The last thing Brady Hout remembers from the accident is hitting the windshield of the oncoming pickup.
Hout and his friends were riding ATVs near his family cabin on July 1, 2023. He went to cross Highway 2 near the Thompson lakes between Libby and Kalispell and collided with a pickup traveling on the road.
“As I was turning, he kind of clipped me from the side and hit my foot, flew back, hit the windshield,” Hout recalled. “And that's all I remember from that point.”
Hout was taken by helicopter to Logan Health Medical Center in Kalispell. He suffered a head injury, several broken ribs and severe damage to his left foot, ankle and lower leg.
After running tests, doctors determined they needn’t be concerned about Hout’s head injury — the laceration required 14 staples, but Hout's brain looked good. His lower leg was another story.
“I was picking bone off the road,” said David Hout, Brady’s father. “(Doctors) asked me to bring it in. They still had pieces that were missing.”
Eventually, doctors presented Hout, then just 15 years old, with two options. They could perform reconstructive surgery, which would involve multiple operations, including placing a titanium ankle and skin grafts, and a long rehabilitation process. Mobility would still be limited in his ankle.
Or, they could amputate his foot.
"I knew from the start I wanted amputation,” Brady said, “and that was mainly my choice due to the fact of just you don't know what's going to happen after you get reconstruction. (It) just takes so much longer. And if I were to go down that road, I probably wouldn't be wrestling right now.”
Hout has been wrestling since kindergarten. He qualified for the Class A state tournament in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, and David credits wrestling with instilling the traits in his son that led him to quickly and decisively opting for amputation.
“He was very strong through the whole thing,” David said. “It was, ‘I'm OK with this. I'm going to do everything in life that I want to do without my foot.’ That was his attitude. It was, ‘It's not going to stop me from doing what I want to do,’ which was encouraging for us.”
Hout had his left foot amputated on July 6. By that afternoon, he was laughing and joking about his nub at the bottom of his leg.
He went home on July 10 and within a month had connected with the adaptive community and participated in the Mission Mountain Classic, a 5K in Ronan. By the time he started his junior year at Ronan High School, he was ready to compete in cross country using a three-wheeled hand bike.
An avid snowboarder, he even figured out how to rig his prosthetic foot into his boot to get back on the mountain. There were other snags, but Brady used his ingenuity and a 3D printer to make a clip that helps secure his prosthetic while snowboarding.
“He's always been that kid that has just been, ‘I'm going to do this. I'm going to figure it out.’ And he just has had that perseverance since he's been a little kid, you know, just strong-willed, stubborn, so he's always had that. That's kind of his personality,” said Jennifer Hout, Brady’s mother. “And I think it has really paid off in this regard for him, that it's really helped him through this.”
“I don't know if there's a good way to say this, but it's like if there's a kid who had to go through this much adversity, Brady is probably one of the ones that would handle it the best,” said Ronan head wrestling coach Dylan Kramer. “After the accident, everybody just talked about like how good his attitude was, how positive he was. And it's hard to believe until you went and go see him, that’s exactly who he was.”
Hout has maintained that positive attitude throughout his recovery. Since the day he made that decision, he’s made sure losing a foot wouldn’t affect his ability to live the life he wants to live — one where he can still go fishing or snowboarding with his family, compete in cross country with his friends and, yes, qualify for the state wrestling tournament.
That was in his mind from the beginning. When he got home from the hospital, he almost immediately started trying new wrestling moves from his knees. His dad had to slow him down, as Brady’s head injury was still healing.
He was back on the mat competing Oct. 14 at The Freakshow, a tournament in Las Vegas, where he went 1-1 before leaving early for Austin, Texas, to get his prosthetic foot.
And now, just seven months since the harrowing accident which he was lucky to survive, Hout has again qualified for the Class A state wrestling tournament.
“I like to stay confident and positive all the time. I think that's one of the many qualities that I like to keep and always have. So, I mean, I went into this thinking I'm going to state no matter what,” Hout said. “It's a big accomplishment. That's all I wanted for this year, is at least to go to state, and I think next year I'm going to come back even stronger and have a good chance at winning it.”
The season hasn’t been without its challenges. Hout has had to learn a completely new wrestling style, one that's more methodical than his more explosive style pre-injury.
Still, he’s gone 16-10 this season and advanced to the state tournament as the No. 4 seed out of the Western A at 182 pounds.
“Yes, I'm missing a foot, but there's advantages and disadvantages,” Hout said, “because I don't have that foot to use it as a lever point. But then I am also in a lower stance and it takes less energy to move around, and my grip strength has just gotten so much better because of that with the crutches and everything.”
“I think just getting used to the new ways that he has to wrestle and use his body,” Kramer said. “You know, every advantage has a disadvantage. It’s kind of vice versa, you know? So, he doesn't have to look at it as disadvantages. Just has to use it as an advantage.”
Hout will next look to find his advantages on the mats at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings. The Class A state wrestling tournament begins Friday.
He’s qualified for state three consecutive years now, this one seemingly the most improbable. But ever since he was struck by that pickup on July 1, Hout’s known only one way to respond.
“The fact is,” he said, “you just got to deal with it. Life might hit you hard, but you got to hit it back harder.”