• Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Koni Dole

    Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Koni Dole

    Photo by PAUL RUHTER

    It was the final game of the 2012 prep football season when Huntley Project High School’s Koni Dole suffered a compound fracture to his lower right leg.

    Putting a bone break that pierces muscle and skin back in place is a delicate procedure, and one with which orthopedic surgeons are frequently confronted.

    Never a routine procedure nor predictable of outcome, Dole’s leg developed “compartment syndrome,” which left him with a choice most people – let alone a teenager with aspirations of a collegiate football career – would find daunting: a useless foot for the rest of his life or amputation.

    Dole reasoned that his “best chance of coming back” was to accept the loss of his lower right leg and move forward.
    Two months after amputation, he was on the wrestling mat for the Red Devils.

    When the 2013 football season opened, Dole was on the field. Fitted with a blade-runner, Dole started the game as a fullback on offense and a lineman on defense. He scored two touchdowns in a 45-0 victory over Joliet. In August, he will join the Montana State University Bobcats football team as a preferred walk-on.

    With a pair of very intense brown eyes, Dole is the walking definition of focused. In a private interview after a strenuous workout accompanied by his best friend, Tanner Miller, Dole described his thought processes leading up to his decision that the way forward was to cut back his damaged leg.

    “I was stuck in bed for a week,” he said. “Everything was OK. One day my parents (Nancy and Fualelei Andy Dole) came into the room. They were upset. There was a look on their faces.

    “Everything that controls the foot was gone. I had a non-functioning foot. It was depressing. I had worked my (butt) off. I had goals. But the choice lit a fire in me. Actions speak louder than words, so I had to accept it. It was my best chance of coming back.”

    Coincidently, one of Dole’s heroes is the South African Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, who ran in the 400-meter semi-finals in the 2012 London Games. Nicknamed the “Blade Runner” because of the two prosthetic devices he wore, Pistorius’s athletic efforts were an inspiration to Dole.

    He, too, would run again on the football field.

    The day after the amputation, the team came in to visit.

    “I told them I was OK,” Dole said. “There were tears. It was very emotional.”

    “The first three months were depressing,” he said.

    To say nothing of the pain.

    Yet there were uplifting moments and he moved quickly to be fitted with a prosthesis. Jay Murray at Treasure State Orthotics and Pro was there to help.

    “He was the perfect guy for me,” Dole said.

    Dole and Murray wanted to get on with the construction and fitting of a prosthesis, Dole said, but “the doctors said we should wait. I wanted to do it now, the doctors were trying to hold me back. They were going by the book. I did some research and felt I had a chance. It was the only way forward. I knew it was not going to be easy.”

    The pervasive attitude of the young man is governed by the command: “I can do it.”

    Two months out of surgery, Dole was wrestling for his high school team minus the artificial limb as competition rules prohibit them.

    “I wanted people to know how hard I worked,” he said.

    Lifting weights for hours was an almost daily routine.

    High school sports in rural Montana are the social identity of many of its residents. This is especially true of Class B and C divisions.

    Dole was quick to respond to a question about which three words describe Montana. With no hesitation, he rattled-off, “close-knit communities.”

    That was demonstrated specifically as a local fundraising effort on his behalf provided the $30,000 needed for the high-tech athletic prosthesis.

    Dole graduates in May from Huntley Project High School. August will find him at MSU in Bozeman with the Bobcat football team as a preferred walk-on, which means he is part of the team, but with no scholarship money.

    He sees himself as possibly playing at linebacker. The six-foot, 208-pound athlete bench presses 315 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash at 4.8 seconds.

    “That was before surgery. I’m just as fast now.”

    Where do you go to relax, escape?
    The weight room or football field to run.

    Three words that describe Montana.
    Close-knit communities.