UTICA, Neb. — Carson Fehlhafer is what you’d call a normal small-town kid. The soft-spoken junior at Centennial enjoys playing sports, hunting white-tailed deer and listening to whatever happens to be on the radio in his truck.
Fehlhafer’s wrestling season was anything but normal, though. Those who stayed up late on the Saturday of the state tournament got to watch him win the Class C heavyweight championship. But many might not know what he went through before that.
Over Christmas break on Dec. 28, Carson’s mother, Christal, had a seizure that was followed by several more. Carson, who was home at the time and about to leave for wrestling practice, heard an odd sound before he walked out the door.
“I wasn’t sure if the noise was on the TV or if I was just hearing things,” Carson said. “I was about to start my truck and leave, but I just thought I’d better go to make sure it was nothing. So I went to the room she (Christal) was in and I didn’t hear her moving around or anything, so I pushed the door open a little bit and there she was laying there.”
Like he does on a wrestling mat when things get tough, Carson didn’t panic. He moved Christal’s head to where she wouldn’t potentially swallow her tongue. He called his dad, Andy, and the ambulance for help.
“I was shocked but I just tried to stay calm and not freak out too much to make matters worse,” Carson said.
Christal was put into a medically-induced coma to stop the seizures and allow her brain and body to heal. She was in the coma for 14 days. The hospital stay was longer than expected — around a month — and once out, she had to rehab and learn to walk again.
Once Christal woke up and realized she missed two weeks of her life in the coma, she made herself a goal.
“I wanted to get the heck out of there (the hospital) because I had missed so much wrestling,” she said. “I was determined to get out of there because I’m Carson’s biggest fan. I just hated it that I couldn’t be there.”
Instead of leaving the wrestling mat, Carson did the opposite and barely left it. He only missed one day of practice, the day he found his mom. Never missed a meet. Keeping busy and continuing to wrestle helped him cope with what was going on.
“It was a way to keep my mind off of it and not be constantly worried,” Carson said. “Just being with my teammates and coaches and having something to look forward to doing in the middle of the day. Just going out there and wrestling keeps your mind off things.”
While in the hospital, other Centennial wrestling parents would videotape Carson’s matches and send them Christal’s way to watch. Those were important and meant a lot.
Carson’s first tournament after his mom had woken up from the coma was at Oakland-Craig. He won the heavyweight division and the videos of his matches were sent to Christal back at the hospital.
“I couldn’t really see them because I was still pretty out of it, but my husband was showing them to me and I would squeeze his hand when I heard, ‘Carson just pinned a guy!’” Christal said. “I heard that. It was like it gave me strength. I know that gave me a lot of motivation to get out and get home. I had to see my kid.”
Knowing his mom had a breakthrough and was awake lit a fire in Carson while at Oakland.
“We always knew she was going to make it,” Carson said, “but with her not being awake and everyone telling us, ‘Oh, it’ll be a couple more days,’ and that turns into ‘A couple more weeks,’ and we’re sitting there wondering if she’d ever wake up. But when she woke up it made me excited and want to wrestle even harder.”
Christal’s first wrestling tournament back in person was the Southern Nebraska Conference meet at Wilber-Clatonia. Carson won the heavyweight championship there, too. Mom got to watch it all.
“He won it, got first place. I’d say it was because I was there supporting, but he had to do all the work,” Christal joked.
If you’re keeping track at home, you’re noticing Carson won a lot. While his mom was at the hospital, he tore up his competition. His 52 victories this past season was one away from the school record. He’s had a heck of a career already — after not wrestling as a freshman, he set the school record for most pins in a season with 37 as a sophomore.
After storming through his competition at conference, subdistricts and districts, Carson went into the state tournament with momentum. But to most in the wrestling community, he likely wasn’t considered the favorite to win the Class C heavyweight title.
Christal knew her son would have a tough path to the gold medal, but she felt good about it because of the mentality he goes into competitions with.
“I didn’t know what to think because his bracket was full of good wrestlers,” she said. “But he told me, ‘I’m not going in thinking about any matches other than that first one. All I need to care about is winning that first match, then I’ll think about the next one.’ That’s how Carson is, he just focuses on one match at a time and tries not to think ahead too much.”
Carson wound up pinning his way to the state championship. Four of them in two days. Not a lot of state champ wrestlers can say they won the title with four pins.
“I would love to say, yeah, he was going to win it all, but the fact that he pinned his way through was a shock to me,” Christal said. “He just likes to pin guys.”
After his final match that Saturday night, Carson, a humble kid, said he always expected to qualify for the state tournament, but not win the whole thing.
“After everything was over I was kind of in shock,” Carson said after winning state. “I didn’t really know what was going on until I calmed down and then I was like, ‘OK, so I just did that.’ It was a great feeling.”
Following his gold-medal win, Carson walked up the CHI Health Center steps to where his family and the rest of the Centennial parents were. He found Christal and gave her a big hug. It was a special moment between a mother and her son.
“I just knew that she’s here, I’m here, and we both accomplished something great,” Carson said. “What she went through and what I went through, I think both of us kind of deserved it.”