TWIN FALLS — Saturday’s volleyball match between CSI and Snow College carried extra significance to Chezney Nielsen, and it had nothing to do with the battle on the court.
Chezney, a freshman outside hitter for Snow, is the younger sister of Braxten Nielsen, a member of the CSI rodeo team. Braxten was competing in bareback riding at the Magic Valley Stamped PRCA Rodeo on August 31. As the gate opened, Braxten’s horse slammed him against the back of the chute.
The impact broke his back and spinal cord. He was paralyzed from the waist down.
Braxten was immediately airlifted to the University of Utah hospital in Salt Lake City. He has been undergoing physical and occupational therapy there ever since.
Chezney essentially traded places with Braxten when she rode the bus from Ephraim, Utah, to Twin Falls on Saturday. Before the No. 10-ranked Badgers fell to the No. 5 Golden Eagles in five sets, Chezney spoke on the phone with her brother, who motivated her like no coach could.
“He’s been saying a lot right now, ‘Go and live your dream because you’re not promised tomorrow,’” Chezney told the Times-News after Saturday’s match. “That’s what’s keeping me going.”
Chezney and Braxton have also traded places in a figurative sense.
Last year, Chezney said, doctors discovered a blood clot in her chest. It was so severe, they told her, she wouldn’t be able to play volleyball again.
“My dream was on pause,” Chezney said.
As she went through treatment and confronted her future, Braxten was her biggest support system. He helped her cope with a reality that suddenly didn’t include volleyball.
The doctors’ initial fears didn’t come true. The clot is still present, Chezney said, and she has to be mindful of it, but it didn’t end her volleyball career. She has played in nine of Snow’s 19 matches so far this season.
“I’m just fighting against the odds,,” she said. “Mine’s not as drastic as his, of course, but now I’m there supporting him no matter what.”
Chezney didn’t see the floor against CSI on Saturday, but she was perhaps the loudest player on Snow’s raucous bench throughout the five sets. As trying as this past year has been for her, she’s maintained a positive attitude, and she credits Braxten for that.
Braxten hasn’t just told Chezney to appreciate each day, he’s done it himself. Chezney said Braxton has been fighting through therapy with “the best attitude ever,” despite the knowledge that he might may never walk again.
It’s impossible for Chezney or her family to brush that knowledge aside, which is why she choked back tears as she discussed her brother on Saturday night. Unless he walks again, this won’t feel like a happy story.
But if Braxten can keep his faith, so can Chezney.
“He’s gonna walk,” she said. “He’s got a 5 percent chance, and it’s gonna be him.”