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YONCALLA, Ore. - Eight months after a horrific crash on I-5 near Cottage Grove, a brother and sister in the rodeo community from Yoncalla are making huge strides.
Austin Thompson, 23, was headed to a rodeo with his younger sister, 15-year-old Natalie, and their five horses on August 25, 2017, when he came around a corner and slammed into a semi-truck that had slowed down on I-5. He said there was no time to stop.
They were both airlifted to PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend. All of their horses were killed in the crash.
“After getting into the helicopter, that was it. I couldn’t remember hardly anything,” Austin said. “In the ICU, I thought I had been there for a couple hours but I had really been there for four or five days.”
Austin spent several weeks in the hospital with a broken femur, shattered kneecap and dislocated left shoulder. He also broke his jaw in three places. Natalie broke her femur and spent several days in the hospital.
Both have undergone physical therapy three times a week since, trying to get stronger.
But more difficult than the grueling recovery and learning to walk without crutches again has been coping with the loss of their beloved horses.
“Whenever I get in the heading box, I always think of my horse,” Natalie said. “And then in the breakaway, I think of my other one.”
After the crash, she had a tough time getting back in a car, let alone on a horse.
“I was nervous at first because I thought maybe I would fall off and hurt my leg,” she said. ”But I was pretty excited that I got to go back on.”
Natalie is already back in the arena, competing in breakaway roping and barrel racing. The North Douglas High School Student is also competing in track.
Austin has been roping since December but is waiting until he gets stronger before he competes in his two other events.
They've both come a long way since August.
"It's been pretty tough,” Austin said. “There's times I broke down but it's been a hard road. But it's been a good hard road. It's not been a miserable hard road I've had family and friends behind me."
Both say they couldn't have done it without the support of their friends, family and community.
“Whenever I felt down and tried to give up, they would just say, ‘just think, you’re going to do this for rodeo,’” Natalie said. “And I would step up and not give up because of the rodeo.”
Austin said he feels blessed that they are alive.
“I feel really lucky and grateful that the Lord and my friend that’s up there and my grandma and my aunt are looking over us,” Austin said. “I feel really lucky to be here.”
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