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November 05, 2012 10:08 PM

SMSU Coach Talks Life After Infant Son's Death

Marshall, MN

If you watch the Southwest Minnesota State University Men's Basketball Team practice, you have to know it is not as easy as it looks.  There is a lot of conditioning; you have to want it.  And on Coach Brad Bigler's court, you better be ready to work.

"Get it going! Oh! Charge, other way!" Brad Bigler yelled at his team. 

His players respect him for it.

"He's like, almost like a father figure to you," Jordan Miller, a SMSU senior and fifth year Mustang, said.

If you can make it through the sweat-inducing drills and rise to the occasion, you can win.

"Hey, you're tired right now, ok. So, I'm going to challenge you," Brad said.

This is not just a lesson Brad teaches his players; it is one he and his wife, Heather, have been living every day since July.

"I guess I never really thought about it that way," Brad said.

There has been a lot to ponder.  The Biglers were driving from a wedding reception in Grand Falls to a cabin near Starbuck, Minnesota. Authorities say 38-year-old Dana Schoen swerved into the wrong lane on Highway 29 and hit the Bigler's car head-on, seriously injuring Brad and Heather's grandma.  The crash killed their infant son, Drake.

"We're doing alright. We're taking steps in the right direction. We're still a long ways to go with the healing process," Brad said.

At just five months old, Brad and Heather said Drake was an alert baby and always watching what was going on around him.  He would have been nine months old on November 11.

"You wonder, would he be walking? Would he be crawling? It's hard not to go there. It'll be hard when he's supposed to start pre-school; kindergarten," Heather said.

While they look for their own answers, they have to face some of the toughest questions of all.  Ones that come from their two-year-old son, Nash, and four-year-old daughter, Taleigha.

"I just told her right away that Drake was going to be in Heaven with Jesus and Grandma Diane.  They're going to take care of him for us; we just won't get to see him anymore," Heather said.  "She was confused with what was going on. Her response now is when she prays she says, 'Please send him back, God. We miss him a lot.'"

They have not had to do this alone.  Just like the coach has been there for his players, the players are there for their coach.

"We're a family, so when something like that happens, we all came together," Miller said. "On the floor, we want to be there for him and work hard every single day because we know what he's been through. We try to follow his leadership."

It is not just the basketball players.  Fundraisers, cards, letters and just kind words at the grocery store; the Biglers say everyone in the surrounding areas have brought a new definition to the word "team."

"I don't think either one of us are people that really search out attention. It was very humbling to know people care. That's why there's the opportunity to do something like this to say, 'Thank you,'" Brad said.

Schoen, whose blood-alcohol-content level was four times the legal limit, now faces an upcoming trial for a long list of charges for causing the crash that killed Drake.  However, the Biglers do not have much to say about him, which seems to say a lot about them.

"At this point, really just trying to control those emotions.  Try to keep the anger from changing who we are," Brad said.  "We do have and we do know we're very fortunate to have two beautiful little kids who we have to be good parents for."

"It's never going to go away. Every time you look at your children, there's one missing. But it's just being strong and positive for these two and making sure we raise them the way we always wanted to raise them," Heather said.

Facing the loss of their child is not as easy as Brad and Heather make it look. It is not about getting over the death of their son, Drake. They say that will not happen.

"You have those human emotions that affect you and at times that catch you off guard.  There's always a whole lot of little steps toward the healing process," Brad said.

However, like the Biglers teach us every day, despite tremendous loss, if you can make it through life's challenges and all of the drills, you can still win.

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