When Minneota native Dick Christianson attended school at Southwest Minnesota State University, he played wheelchair basketball for the Broncos because he had to have a hip replacement at a young age.
As others have attested to the fact that Christianson was a standout athlete at Minneota High School where he graduated in 1975, Christianson also quickly developed into a standout wheelchair basketball player, setting numerous records.
The game balls Christianson received for scoring his 1,000th career point on Nov. 11, 1978 and his 2,000th career point on Jan. 26, 1980, had been positioned atop a partial moose antler he and his wife, Krista, acquired while living on Boseman, MT, for a number of years.
Christianson and his wife decided to donate the basketballs back to SMSU and be placed in its Alumni Heritage Gallery.
"Back in March I told my wife that we've had these basketballs for over 40 years," said Christianson, who now lives in St. Cloud. "And with no children to pass them on to, they would probably end up getting sold at a garage sale."
Christianson contacted current SMSU wheelchair coach Derek Klinkner and informed him that he would like to donate the basketballs back to the school and his offer was readily accepted.
Last Friday, at halftime of a SMSU basketball game, Christianson was introduced to those in attendance. Accompanying him out om the court was his wife, his former wheelchair coach Lew Shaver and his wife Judy, Klinkner, and SMSU Athletic Director Bruce Saugstad.
This is part of what was read for the introduction:
"One of the first prolific scorers in the (SMSU wheelchair basketball) program's history was Minneota native Dick Christianson. Christianson scored 2,120 points in his career, breaking 17 school records. He was inducted into the SMSU Athletics Hall of Honor in 1998.” “Christianson recently announced he would donate his commemorative 1,000- and 2,000-point basketballs to be on display at the SMSU Alumni Heritage Gallery. At this time, SMSU and Mustang athletics would like to recognize Dick for his contribution to Mustang wheelchair basketball and his gift to the SMSU Alumni Heritage Gallery."
Christianson's wheelchair career followed a standout high school career at Minneota. He was named the winner of the 1975 Andersen-Christianson Award for the top senior athlete. Dick played football, basketball, baseball and golf at Minneota. The award is named for Bob Anderson and Tom Christianson, who were killed in an automobile accident in 1970. Tom Christianson was Dick's older brother.
During his senior year, however, Christianson didn't feel the same energy he always had.
"I was 17 years old and I felt like I was 80," he said. "I could barely move after a football game."
He went to see Dr. Vandersluis after the fall football season of 1974 and was told after viewing X-rays that his hip hadn't grown right and the left hip had no coverage on the socket.
"Back then, the Mayo Clinic had a revolving clinic and when they came to the armory in Marshall, my mom took me over there to check things out," Christianson said. "After they took X-rays there, about 12 people walked into the room and recommended that I quit all activities, wait until I'm 35 years old, and then have a hip replacement."
Christianson stood up from his chair, grabbed his mother's hand, said "thank you" to the medical personnel, and left.
"What we heard wasn't acceptable to me, so we left," he explained.
Back in Minneota, Christianson visited Dr. Vandersluis again, who then sent the young man's records to Sioux Falls.
"Doctors at Sioux Falls wrote a letter back and said it looked like I could function well, and that something could be done to make me better," Christianson recalled. "I finished out my senior year playing sports."
Christianson enrolled at SMSU and then had hip surgery at Gillette's Children's Hospital in St. Paul in January of 1976.
"They did some carpentry work on it and then I was placed in a body cast that came up to my mid-chest for seven weeks," he said.
After the cast was removed and he spent some time in therapy to build up his muscles again, Christianson then enrolled at SMSU for the spring semester, now walking around campus with a cane.
By chance one day, he ran into Dan Snobl, a physical therapist who knew Christianson was a good athlete and suggested he talk to Lew Shaver, the SMSU wheelchair basketball coach about joining the team.
Because he was unable to play on the men's basketball team in his current condition, he was eligible to play on the wheelchair team. Those playing wheelchair basketball are classified into three groups: A "3" is someone like Christianson who has limited use of his extremities but is not paralyzed. A "2" is someone which have no use of some of their extremities such as a paraplegic, and a "1" is someone who has no use of their extremities such as a quadriplegic. Each team's five players on the court can only add up to 12 or fewer points.
Once a player is confined to a wheelchair in the first year, they are eligible to play all four years, even if they no longer need the use of a wheelchair.
Christianson led the nation in scoring twice en route to his career achievements.
"I didn't care how many points I scored," he said. "I'm all about winning and getting others involved, and making those around me better."
The Mustangs had to travel to other states or make lengthy trips in-state to play other teams back then because of the limited number of colleges that offered wheelchair basketball.
Not long ago, Christianson was selling medical equipment for his job in downtown St. Paul when he noticed a building called the James R. Gage Center for Gait and Motion Analysis in the Gillette Children's building.
"That was the name of the surgeon who did my hip surgery in 1976," Christianson said. "I went inside and asked the receptionist if Dr. Gage was there that day and if she would ask him to come out because he had done my surgery a long time ago. Two minutes later, Dr. Gage came out. After I told him who I was, he said 'Dick, walk for me'. After I walked, he looks at me and says,- 'I did a pretty good job.'"
And so did Dick.