Friends and family of Hunter Pinke gathered at Hope Church Friday evening to pray for the UND football player who was paralyzed in a skiing accident last month in Colorado. Organized by the UND Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a number of Pinke’s friends and mentors attended the event and shared stories about Pinke's leadership and faith in God.

Pinke, a junior tight end, recently was transferred to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. The hospital specializes in spinal cord injuries and their rehabilitation.

Bubba Schweigert, head coach of the UND football team, shared a story about the first time he met Hunter while Schweigert was giving a speech in Wishek, N.D., about leadership and faith. Schweigert said he quickly realized Pinke’s leadership, especially when it came to his faith. When Pinke eventually joined the team at UND, that leadership continued.

“He's really a spiritual leader on our team and amongst the other athletes on campus,” Schweigert said.

UND football coach Bubba Schweigert speaks to the high character and leadership of Hunter Pinke during Friday's prayer service and benefit at Hope Church. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
UND football coach Bubba Schweigert speaks to the high character and leadership of Hunter Pinke during Friday's prayer service and benefit at Hope Church. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

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Recalling a conversation Schweigert had with Pinke’s mother, Katie Pinke, after the accident, Schweigert said nurses and doctors in Colorado were surprised by the progress Hunter had been making with his attitude. It wasn’t a surprise to Schweigert.

“I shared with Katie at that time: 'You know, they might be surprised but we aren't, are we?'” Schweigert said. “We just aren't because we know what's inside of him and we know about his strong faith. So as shocked as we were (about the accident,) we can take comfort in that.”

Hunter Pinke even shared a message himself.

“This community of support that I’ve felt in the past weeks has been unbelievable,” he said in a video message. “I’ve told people from the start, I’ve never had an ounce of doubt. I’ve just had this unwavering optimism that I think can only really come from prayer. So, those of you who have prayed for me and continue to, all I can say is thank you. I feel them, they’re working. So keep that up, please.”

The number of texts, calls, letters and donations that have been sent to him and his family has been overwhelming, he said.

“It really makes you realize how big of a support system you have, not only at the University of North Dakota and in Grand Forks, but the whole state of North Dakota and ultimately in this country,” he said.

Eric Morrow leads prayers for healing and support of Hunter Pinke during a prayer service and benefit for Pinke at Hope Church Friday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Eric Morrow leads prayers for healing and support of Hunter Pinke during a prayer service and benefit for Pinke at Hope Church Friday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Pinke’s spinal cord injury is considered to be very significant and he will spend several months rehabbing at the Craig Hospital.

Katie Pinke, Hunter’s mother, shared an update about Hunter’s progress in the Facebook group #PinkeStrong, a social media hashtag that has been used across the state and the country to show support for the Pinke family.

“It's rewarding to see Hunter's progress daily in his rehabilitation, which includes challenging days of hourly appointments in occupational therapy, physical therapy, pool therapy, FES (functional electrical stimulation) bike, wheelchair class, SCI (spinal cord injury) education classes, peer group classes, nutrition, psych, recreational therapy and more,” Katie Pinke wrote.

Hunter had his first recreation therapy activity earlier this week, which included air rifle target shooting. His first shot was a bullseye, Katie Pinke said.

“Whatever (Hunter’s path ahead) is, we trust in the path God has already planned,” she wrote. “Daily we continue to lean on your prayers, kindness, notes, comments, cards, gifts, caring, love, compassion, generosity, ALL OF IT. You fill the gaps in our lives and have changed our lives, forever.”

More than $156,000 has been raised in a GoFundMe to help the Pinke family with medical costs related to Hunter Pinke’s care. Money also was raised during Friday’s prayer service; buckets were passed around for cash donations and T-shirts were sold.

To donate, people can go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/hunter-pinke-medical-costs. A benefit account also has been set up for Pinke with First Community Credit Union; donate to the account at any FCCU location.