Jess Hanneken and Liz Downie were looking forward to being teammates on the Pine River-Backus girls’ cross country team this fall. Downie even switched sports to be on the cross country team with her longtime friend.
But everything changed Sunday, Sept. 1. That’s when Hanneken and Downie were riding together on a Jet Ski that collided with a second Jet Ski driven by Hanneken’s cousin, Josh Cronquist, in the middle of Sullivan Lake near Harding, where they were at a grandparent’s cabin.
The accident happened early in the night on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Hanneken, 16, was seriously injured when the collision knocked her off the Jet Ski and in the path of Cronquist’s watercraft. The Jet Ski rode over Hanneken, and the rudder sliced open a big gash in her left leg.
“Her femur bone was sticking out,” Downie said of the injury that also cut the patellar tendon near Hanneken’s knee. “It’s the most traumatic thing either of us has gone through. It was no one’s fault, but it shows how fast things can happen. It changes your perspective. As teenagers, you don’t think things like this can happen.”
Downie said both Jet Skis were damaged, but Cronquist managed to hold onto Hanneken with one hand and steer the watercraft with his other hand in the water, since the steering was damaged in the accident.
“I don’t know how Josh did it,” Downie said. “I think Josh is a hero. He had to balance the Jet Ski and bring Jess to shore. She was also very brave and did not cry.”
Downie was forced to stay with her Jet Ski, and was later pulled to shore by a pontoon that was boating on the lake.
“The (grandparent’s) neighbor is with the Pierz Fire Department, and he called 911,” Downie said. “An EMT took Jess to the Onamia Hospital, and she was later airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center (in the Twin Cities).”
Hanneken spent five days at North Memorial before returning home. She is confined to a wheelchair for possibly three to five months.
“It’s undetermined how long I will be in the wheelchair,” Hanneken said. “I’m expecting that I won’t be able to walk for three to five months. My next doctor’s appointment is in six weeks. That’s when they will say if I can start physical therapy.”
Hanneken missed the first week of school but returned the second week on a half-day basis. She’s now back to school on a full-time basis, but she likely won’t participate in sports her junior year.
“I plan to attend the closer meets,” said Hanneken, who has been running cross country since seventh grade, “but I may never run cross country or play basketball again. But we won’t know until I’m done with (rehabilitation).”
Hanneken, the daughter of Chris and Tina Hanneken of Pine River, is also an accomplished horseback rider.
This summer she advanced as a member of the Minnesota team to the 65th annual National High School Finals Rodeo in Wyoming. She is the Minnesota State High School rodeo queen and finished 21st in that category at nationals.
“Josh (Cronquist) is also my team roping partner,” Hanneken said. “They said when I’m fully recovered, and walking again, I can get back on a horse. But I don’t have a timetable.”
Hanneken admits the injury could have been worse.
“It could have been a lot worse because the main arteries are on the back of the leg, and I was cut on the front of my leg,” she said, “but I will probably have a limp for up to a year.”
Pete Mohs can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook.