MANKATO – His speech slow but punctuated with laughter, a remarkably improved Isaac Kolstad spoke publicly Wednesday evening about his recovery from a near-fatal beating seven months ago that left him in a coma.
His life consists mainly of therapy, but he’s buoyed by his daughters, ages 6 months and 4 years old, and the encouragement of his wife, Molly, he said.
“I can feel myself getting better through therapy. That is my favorite part,” said Kolstad, who celebrated his 25th birthday Wednesday.
In one of his first media interviews since the incident, Kolstad even offered a prediction for the Minnesota State, Mankato football team’s national championship game this Saturday against Colorado State-Pueblo: Mankato wins, 24 to 17.
The interview was arranged through the Kolstads’ attorney, Kenneth White, who prohibited questions about civil suits, the fight that landed Kolstad in the hospital or the ongoing criminal case against a St. Peter man and former University of Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson, who has been charged with first- and third-degree assault for their roles in the May 11 fight that broke out in downtown Mankato as bars closed. Kolstad spoke to reporters from a Mankato law office with his wife and children.
The family’s only comment about the fight so far came from Molly in September, when Isaac, a 2013 graduate of Minnesota State, Mankato and a former football player for the school, appeared publicly to lead his former teammates onto the field. She said then that her family wants “to pray for everybody. It’s not just Isaac.”
According to newly released witness statements taken by the Mankato police, Nelson was angry at a bar bouncer who had kissed his girlfriend that night. When Nelson and Kolstad bumped into each other outside of the bar, Kolstad congratulated Nelson on his football career and wished him luck.
Nelson, thinking Kolstad was the bouncer, shoved Kolstad and accused him of flirting with his girlfriend. Friends stepped in to separate Nelson and Kolstad, who were both intoxicated, according to police.
Kolstad broke free, and knocked Nelson to the ground. Kolstad started to walk away, but a third man, Trevor Shelley of St. Peter, punched Kolstad in the head. Surveillance video of the fight shows Kolstad dropping to the ground. He was knocked out, and his head smacked the pavement loudly, according to at least one witness. By then, Nelson was back on his feet, and he ran over to where Kolstad lay on the ground and kicked him in the head, according to police.
The fight lasted just a few seconds. Nelson and Shelley each stand accused of first- and third-degree assault. Nelson was also kicked off the Rutgers football team. Nelson’s defense attorney argued in a pretrial motion that it’s impossible for anyone to say which hit inflicted Kolstad’s brain injury: Shelley’s punch, the smack on the pavement, or Nelson’s kick.
Friends, supporters and Kolstad’s former employer, Fastenal, have raised more than $150,000 for medical costs. Kolstad said he plans to return to Fastenal once he finishes his therapy.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday evening, Molly Kolstad compared the recovery process to a marathon, adding that it’s not yet over.
“Today is definitely the biggest blessing we could ever ask for,” she said. “There was a point where we didn’t think we would have anymore birthdays. It’s been extremely difficult.”
Isaac’s comment on his life this year was short: “My story is somewhat crazy because I have been through a lot.”
Molly said she’s had some ability to communicate with Isaac since the fight, and that it’s steadily improved. When he started to speak this summer, he thought he was going to spend another year on the Mankato football team, and wore his jersey to therapy sessions, said Molly. It wasn’t until late August that he figured out that his Mankato football days were over.
Molly said she can see daily improvements in his recovery. His sense of humor returned two weeks ago. He recently started doing math problems on his iPad.
“I think the girls are a really big piece in it,” she said, speaking of their daughters Haidyn, 4, and Malia, six months. “They bring us a lot of joy and a lot of laughter.”
Kolstad moved home to Mankato over the Thanksgiving break. He travels to Golden Valley three times a week for therapy, where he’s become friends with another high-profile therapy patient: Jack Jablonski.
“We talk about sports,” said Kolstad, a former hockey player and a Wild fan. (A birthday present Wednesday was a Wild jersey.)
Kolstad said he recently broke a treadmill during his therapy sessions.
“Normally people use it to walk — not me,” he said.
He heads to Kansas City, Kan., this weekend with his father to watch Mankato play in the Division II national championship. He plans to bring his iPad, he said, to do therapy while he’s on the road.
Molly said the family plans to continue with therapy sessions until late spring, at least. “Every week goes by and he seems more and more like Isaac,” she said.