ALEXANDRIA, SD -
After a 3-0 start, the Hanson Beavers have lost two straight games. Now, the team is looking to bounce back from adversity. That’s a word sophomore Tristan Bender is far too familiar with.
Tristan was born without a right arm, a birth defect no one saw coming.
"It was kind of a shock to us at first because the ultrasound never showed his deficiency. When he was born the doctors, nurses and us included were all shocked," father Rob Bender said.
But it didn't take long for Tristan's father, Rob, to realize nothing would hold his youngest son back.
"He couldn't have been maybe three years old and with one hand he pulled himself up on the dryer," Rob said.
When he was in 6th grade, Tristan decided to give football a shot. After all, his two older brothers had been playing for years.
"When I was little watching my older brothers Patrick and Jacob, they were my main drive for wanting to be better because watching them, every kid wants to be like their older brother or sister and watching them, they were my main drive," Tristan said.
And that drive has paid off this year. Not only did Tristan land a spot on the varsity roster, he's the starting center for the Beavers.
"The starting position wasn't handed to him. We looked at a couple different things for him and he won the starting centers job," Hanson Head Coach Jim Haskamp said.
"It shows what he can do. If he puts his mind to it he can do anything he wants to do and he can do anything almost as good as somebody with two arms," Rob said.
Even in a small town, starting as a sophomore is no easy feat, but no one around the Beavers was surprised to see Tristan take over.
"He wanted to make his own footprints and I think it's a sport that he's grown up loving and there's no way that he didn't want to be out there playing," Haskamp said.
While Tristan has already proven himself to teammates, questions still seem to remain when he takes the field on Friday nights.
"You have other people who will doubt him and you know they do because of it and he just goes out there and shows them something different and it motivates us all to keep improving," Hanson Quarterback Tyler Pringle said.
And Tristan has a message for any opponent who might take him lightly.
"I'm a lot bigger than my brother and he can still push me around so I don't take anyone for granted and I think they should do the same," Tristan said.
Tristan has worked to overcome adversity his whole life, but his resolve and perseverance stretches far from the gridiron.
Six years ago Tristan's older sister Samantha was killed in car accident just months before her 19th Birthday. Less than a year later his mother Sue lost a battle with cancer, but through it all Tristan has never lost his spirit.
"He's remained pretty strong and I think he's had a strong base and a solid base that's helped him and they've relied on each other through that," Haskamp said.
"He's overcome a lot. I don't know how else to put it. He's a hell of a lot better guy than me," Rob said.
Even with plenty of built in excuses, Tristan still finds a way to remain upbeat, a trait his teammates have started to rely on.
"Even though we all get mad every once in a while Tristan most of the time he's the one that's going to pick us up," Mitch Meyer said.
"You can have somebody mad on the field and he's the one that's going to sit there and make you laugh and pick you back up," Pringle said.
And Tristan says that ability to always stay positive is more like a gift, one he won't ever forget.
"I think a lot of it came from my mom. She never let anything get her down. She'd have good and bad days when she was diagnosed with cancer and I don't ever let that slow me down," Tristan said.
"There's nothing else I can say about it. He's surpassed anything that I could have imagined. I mean, he's out there working and everybody's behind him to succeed," Rob Bender said.
Tristan has also worked his way onto the field as a defensive lineman this season and he gives a lot of credit to his older brothers Patrick and Jacob for not taking it easy on him as a kid.
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