ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. (FOX 9) - Former Minnesota State University-Mankato football player Isaac Kolstad is still defying the odds.
Kolstad is pushing himself through new therapies and enjoying greater independence after suffering a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him.
He was severely injured in an altercation involving former Gophers starting quarterback Philip Nelson in downtown Mankato in May 2014. The violent encounter was captured on surveillance video and lasted just a few seconds, but the fallout from it continues to be felt five years later.
There is no slowing down Kolstad, as he’s returning to form stronger, faster, more balanced and incredibly grateful.
Kolstad is making his latest strides in a five-year medical odyssey at the Minnesota Concussion and Chiropractic Arts in St. Louis Park under the care of Dr. David Stussy.
Kolstad, now 29, was a former linebacker at MSU-Mankato until the alcohol-fueled fight during graduation weekend in 2014.
In the surveillance video, you can see Kolstad decking the former Gophers Quarterback when a third man, Trevor Shelley, jumps into the fray with a vicious punch that appeared to knock Kolstad out cold.
He fell back and slammed into the pavement with nothing to break his fall when Nelson kicked him in the head.
The once celebrated quarterback and hometown hero pled guilty to lesser charges while Shelley was sentenced to 150 days in jail as one expert believed Shelley inflicted the greatest damage.
“Whatever it was - three seconds, eight seconds - multiple lives were changed in an instant,” said Judge Bradley Walker of the sentencing.
Kolstad was just lucky to survive his traumatic brain injury, given only a three percent chance of ever waking up.
“Hearing like, 'they’re going to pull the plug,' the doctors in Rochester said, ‘Why are you trying this? You’re wasting your time,” Kolstad recalled.
Holding fast to that football player mentality, there was never any quit as he continued to defy the odds.
The Mavericks community rallied around #22strong and welcomed his miraculous return to the gridiron with open arms.
His focus never wavered and now, five years later, he feels great. Stussy’s team is working to improve his posture and his eye movement through various exercises and drills.
“You slowly restore his humanity, really,” said Stussy.
To Kolstad, it’s both humanity and independence.
Per doctor’s orders, Kolstad is now able to live alone. Sadly, his relationship with his wife Molly didn’t survive the struggles of his daunting recovery, and they divorced.
“We’re all different,” he said. “Everybody close to me from my injury. So we’re getting back to normal. Normal Life. Enjoying life again.”
Kolstad cherishes spending time with his young daughters and is working part time at a Mankato-area garden center to support his family.
He’s also on the cusp of another major milestone of independence that once seemed impossible: A driver’s license.
“It was a long time, the first year and a half,” he recalled. “I was on edge during recovery.”
Now, things are looking decidedly different for him.
“I’m happy and enjoying life,” he said. “My kids, my family, everything is good.”