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Hunter Pinke delivers inspiring message, thanks community at UND's Delta Gamma Lectureship

Pinke, 25, severed his spine in a skiing accident in Colorado in 2019. The former UND football player now plays for the University of Arizona's wheelchair basketball team.

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Former UND football player Hunter Pinke sits at center stage during the Delta Gamma Lectureship at UND's Chester Fritz Auditorium on April 24, 2023.
Photo courtesy of A.G. Media.

GRAND FORKS โ€” Former UND football player Hunter Pinke recalled his Craig Hospital room in Colorado, where he rehabbed from a 2019 skiing injury that has left Pinke paralyzed from the chest down.

During a 90-minute speech Monday night at the Chester Fritz Auditorium to headline the Delta Gamma Lectureship in Values and Ethics, Pinke remembered how some of the rooms at the spinal injury hospital on his floor were bare but Pinke's was filled with tokens of support.

"There are moments you will remember for the rest of your life," said Pinke, now 25. "Tonight is one of those moments for me. I get the opportunity to say thank you."

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Former UND football player Hunter Pinke speaks to a large crowd during the Delta Gamma Lectureship on April 24, 2023, at UND's Chester Fritz Auditorium.
Photo courtesy of A.G. Media.

Pinke delivered a message of gratefulness while overcoming adversity.

Pinke, who now plays wheelchair basketball for the University of Arizona and also travels the country as a public speaker, talked about the need to support one another, describing it as filling a cup. Pinke then again thanked the community for playing a role in his recovery during a scary time in his life.

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"I'm here to say thank you for filling (my cup) up," Pinke said.

Pinke, a Wishek, N.D., native, was a UND tight end and captain. Following the 2019 season and a playoff loss at Nicholls State in Louisiana, Pinke was injured while skiing in Keystone, Colo, with teammate Noah Wanzek, who attended the speech Monday. He suffered a spinal cord injury and broken back after a collision with another skier propelled Pinke into a tree.

He was airlifted off the mountain and underwent an eight-hour surgery at St. Anthony's Hospital in Lakewood, Colo.

"From 6-foot-6 to 4-foot-10 and from a Division I athlete to not being able to walk again ... that's hard," Pinke said.

A staple of Pinke's message is the retelling of a story when a nurse tried to prepare him for bad days ahead.

"It's 1,214 ... that's how many (days) I've had (since the injury)," Pinke said. "Good ones and tough ones but no bad ones. You start stacking those good days on top of each other like pancakes and those good days start adding up to make a pretty good life."

Pinke's speech on Monday night came in front of a packed Chester Fritz audience including many family members, former coaches, former teammates and friends.

"I'll forever be grateful to be from this place," Pinke said. "I'm a product of Wishek, North Dakota. I'm a product of the University of North Dakota. I'm a product of the state of North Dakota. You all are my people. This? This is my home."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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