The college wrestlers who took on a grizzly bear


WARNING: This story contains graphic descriptions of a grizzly bear attack.

A GOOD FRIEND never lets his buddy step in bear crap. So when Brady Lowry stumbled upon a fresh pile back in October, deep in the thick brush of the Wyoming wilderness near Yellowstone, he turned his head and began to alert Kendell Cummings. Those were almost his last words.

The two Northwest College wrestlers had known each other for only about a month and a half, but they had become fast friends. Brady, who’d been a juco All-American as a freshman, was back on the team after taking a year off from college. Kendell was a hardworking sophomore who hadn’t cracked the lineup yet.

There’s something about being wrestling practice partners that can forge lifelong friendships in six weeks. Pushing each other on 5-mile runs, sweating and bleeding all over the place, either twisting your friend into a pretzel or getting pretzeled… it’s violence and then forgiveness, for hours on end, and that can weld two people together almost instantly. That’s what it had done for Brady and Kendell.

So they started hanging out after practice. They both loved the outdoors, and as wrestling season started up in early October, Brady had talked to Kendell about how much money he makes doing “shed hunting.” Shed hunting involves meticulously scouring the dense mountain trails near Yellowstone National Park, looking for horns that elk, moose, mule deer and other male animals lose once a year. A big set of antlers can be worth $200 or so. A good day of shed hunting can net a college kid $500, and today, Oct. 15, was off to a great start.

They’d gone out with two other Northwest College wrestlers, Gus Harrison and Orrin Jackson, and they spent the 45-minute drive teasing Gus for wearing a bright red sweatshirt instead of camo or dark clothing. They kept telling him he was going to be a blinking food sign for any aggressive wildlife in the area.

The four stuck together for most of the day. They hiked close to 15 miles in six hours that day on the Bobcat-Houlihan Trail, which sits on the outskirts of Yellowstone. They traversed areas of wide-open jagged rock… and then spots where every shrub and tree seemed to have banded together and decided to form a neighborhood. Thick and thin, thick and thin, for miles.

As sunset approached, they split up into pairs and pointed toward a specific rock off in the distance where they could meet in an hour or so. Brady and Kendell went up; Gus and Orrin stayed lower. The pairs were a half-mile apart at around 4 p.m., far enough that Brady and Kendell could just barely hear Gus and Orrin talking and joking around down below.

Up on the mountain, Brady and Kendell had waded into a deep brush, so dense that it was almost impossible to see the ground. Kendell was about 50 feet away when he heard Brady yell, “Hey, watch out for this big pile of bear s—.”

That’s when they heard a loud cracking noise. Brady ended his sentence and was only able to blurt out “Bear!” before a 500-pound grizzly hit him in the chest.

Suddenly the two wrestlers were in the toughest match of their life.

THERE IS AN OLD adage that if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly. The quote’s origins are fuzzy and date back 100 years, although many still implausibly attribute it to Mahatma Gandhi. Its true meaning speaks to human admiration of the singular ferocity of the grizzly bear, which just might be the most dangerous creature on earth. It’s hard to say for sure how a grizzly would fare against a tiger or hippo, but wildlife experts say the grizzly might be the No. 1 seed in that bracket.

Grizzlies are common in what’s known as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which stretches into chunks of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Grizzlies are federally protected, and killing them, even in self-defense, is an automatic legal issue. If investigators doubt legitimate self-defense, shooting a grizzly can get you one year in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Attacks are rare — Yellowstone literature says there’s about a 1 in 2.7 million chance a person will be injured by a grizzly bear. Yellowstone’s website says there have been eight deaths from grizzly attacks in 150 years, one more than the number of deaths from falling trees.

But threaten a grizzly’s habitat, food supply or, worst of all, a female’s cubs, and look out. A typical female grizzly weighs around 500 pounds and stands 7 feet tall, with a speed that tops out at about 30 mph and a mouth that can crush a bowling ball.

So Brady didn’t stand a chance. He’s a two-time Utah high school state champion and finished seventh in the country as a freshman 149-pounder, which means he has spent his entire life locking horns and trying to leverage strong humans. But he never felt anything like he did that day. The bear — likely a mama grizzly — struck him and knocked him 30 yards across the scraggly ground. She ran right alongside his tumbling body, clobbering him as he rolled. He still remembers the way his body came to a stop and the bear started pawing at him, almost dribbling him up and down on the ground.

Kendell found himself about 30 yards away, facing the bear’s back as the initial attack unfolded. He watched this indescribable brutality happening to his friend and couldn’t believe how fast and vicious it was. He wanted to help, but how? He would be tossed like a cornhole beanbag, too, and then they’d both be dead. Maybe he could haul ass and get Gus and Orrin and come back and they could try to outflank the bear. Gus had a gun, he remembered, and he knew Gus was an incredible shot. Maybe running was his best chance.

But when he watched the bear pushing and pulling Brady, he realized his friend had maybe 30 seconds of this before he’d be dead.

As he watched, he couldn’t help but flash to all those moments of him and Brady wrestling, grinding each other’s faces to the mat, then pulling each other off the mat, and then doing it again. You know those families where everybody bickers and fights… but nobody else dares mess with any one of them? That’s how Kendell felt as the bear attacked.

So Kendell started yelling at the bear. No reaction.

He picked up a stick and threw it and hit the bear. Nothing.

He threw a rock, a perfect strike in the middle of the bear’s back. Still nothing.

The bear was in kill mode, and sticks and stones were not going to distract it. “I couldn’t even get her to budge,” Kendell says.

So he launched the most dangerous takedown attempt he had ever tried. Kendell ran and threw his body onto the bear’s back, yanking on the fur around her neck. That got the grizzly’s attention, and she swung around just as Kendell released his hold and started sprinting away. Kendell hoped maybe his counterattack would confuse and distract the bear long enough that Brady could scrape himself off the ground and run in the opposite direction. Maybe, just maybe, the bear would be content to just let them run off.

But there’s a reason most bear experts say the only way to survive a grizzly attack is to pretend you’re dead. As Kendell took off running, he allowed himself one look over his shoulder to see what the bear was going to do. He watched in horror as she spun from Brady’s collapsed body, took two giant gallops and was on top of him now.

The violence was so gruesome that it defies logic that anybody could survive. She clubbed Kendell to the ground and pounced on top of him. Her mouth drove down toward his head, and he could smell the rancid breath of a creature that spends its life killing and eating raw meat. Her slobber flew all over him as he desperately tried to put his hands and arms into her mouth in place of his face.

But her mouth eventually clamped down on his face and head, biting several times until Kendell went limp on the ground. “I thought that was it for me,” he says.

The bear looked at Kendell’s still body for a few seconds, then slowly lumbered away, back toward where Brady had been. Kendell opened his eyes and tried to see if his friend had gotten away. But he had so much blood pouring down his face that he couldn’t really tell. He just knew the bear was heading in the opposite direction, and maybe he had a shot to get away.

Finally, when the bear was out of sight, Kendell pulled himself up off the ground and started trying to find a path down the mountain. He was bleeding badly and his bicep had been torn off the bone, but he was cognizant and full of adrenaline. He hoped he could find his three friends and they could get the hell out of there.

But he wasn’t even sure that Brady had survived the initial attack. Without thinking, Kendell yelled as loud as he could muster.


And that’s when he heard the crash and crunch of something that wasn’t his friend.

The bear was coming back.

UNBEKNOWNST TO Kendell, Brady scrambled to his feet as the bear initially turned her attention toward his friend. Brady screamed Kendell’s name but the bear was after him already. He saw Kendell moving faster than he thought was possible, so he hoped his friend could outrun the bear.

So Brady pulled out his cell phone to call for help, then made a run into the clearing to alert Gus and Orrin. He had the same thought that Kendell had earlier: Maybe Gus could get up there and shoot the bear.

He somehow got a signal and called 911. He told the operator what happened and exactly where they were, at about the same time he spotted Gus and Orrin 200 yards down. The only reason he saw them in the distance? Gus’ red sweatshirt.

With the phone to his ear, Brady screamed “Help!” and waved his hand. At the bottom of the hill, the two wrestlers couldn’t make out what he was saying. Gus actually smiled and waved back — he thought Brady was just being a goofball.

But as Brady wobbled down the trail, Gus and Orrin could see that he was carrying his left arm like a baby, limp and pinned to his side. It became obvious that he hadn’t been yelling hello; he needed help. They started sprinting up toward him, with Gus just ahead of Orrin. He recognized the words “bear” and “Kendell,” and then Gus really hit the gas. As he streaked up the mountain, he pulled his gun and prepared to engage with a bear.

Orrin got to Brady and took the phone from him. The 911 operator was advising them to not go back into the woods, that help was on the way, that they should get off the trail and head toward their cars, that they couldn’t do anything to stop a grizzly attack themselves.

“We’re not leaving,” Orrin said, and he hung up.

He grabbed Brady and started up the hill after the red sweatshirt running ahead of them. But Brady was in bad shape, physically and emotionally. A bone in his forearm was broken in half from a bear bite, and it was poking out of his arm as he carried it like it wasn’t even a part of his own body. And even worse, he didn’t think he could look at whatever they were going to find at the top of that hill. “Kendell is dead,” he told Orrin. “He’s dead.”

Kendell wasn’t dead, but he was barely alive.

AS GUS CLOSED in on the scene with his gun drawn, the bear got back to Kendell and struck him again. Then she leaned down and bit into his head, lifting his body completely off the ground. He felt the teeth crunch into his skull, and Kendell was powerless. He had puncture wounds in his leg and shoulders by then, and there was something so deflating about the way the bear could manhandle him that he began to concede that he was not going to walk off the Bobcat-Houlihan Trail that day.

The bear held him there for a moment, then dropped him into a heap on the ground again. Kendell was so injured at that point that even if he had wanted to keep up the fight, he wouldn’t have been able to. An eerie quiet descended upon the area as the bear just stood beside him. Kendell laid there, eyes closed, a calmness coming over him as he took what he thought would be his last breaths.

The only thing he felt was the bear smushing her paw into his side. She was nudging him, over and over again. Kendell realized his backpack, loaded up with antlers they had found that day, was so bulky that she couldn’t roll him over. Looking back now, he thinks she wanted to take his back and finish the kill. But the backpack kept him stuck on his side, which might have saved his life.

After 30 seconds of trying to flip him, the bear began to scoop dirt over his body. He hadn’t moved, so she must have presumed him dead. Kendell thinks the dirt was her covering his carcass so she could go back, check on her cubs and then return to eat him. “I was going to be a snack,” Kendell says.

As the seconds ticked by, though, Kendell began to wonder about his friend. Had Brady made it out? What if he was still alive somewhere and needed help?

Kendell reached down toward his stomach and unhooked the latch for his backpack, and it rolled off. He toppled over onto his belly, like the bear had tried to do a few minutes earlier. His adrenaline had dipped just enough that he began to feel the pain of what were catastrophic injuries. His head was punctured in multiple spots by the bear’s teeth, and he had devastating bite marks up and down his body. He was in agony.

But he dragged himself up off the ground, and this time didn’t yell anything as he headed back down the trail. He kept looking over his shoulder, expecting her to come barreling out of the brush again.

He wiped the blood out of his eyes and pulled his phone out of his pocket, and he was horrified and grateful at what he saw. There were deep bite marks that made the phone unusable. But he also saw a visceral reminder of the attack he had been trying to escape from. At that moment, he could tell the phone had acted almost like an unintended bulletproof vest for that part of his thigh, shielding him just enough where no major arteries were punctured by her teeth.

But with no working phone, how would he call his teammates? Or 911? Turns out, though, that help was coming to him.

KENDELL MADE IT 100 yards or so when a streaking red sweatshirt arrived. Gus had his gun raised and was attempting to clear the scene like he’s been learning in his criminal justice classes at Northwest.

The truth is, if the bear had chased Kendell out into the clearing and Gus managed to shoot it, even multiple times, the gun probably would have just pissed off the bear more. Their only real way to win was to survive.

Gus crouched down and hoisted Kendell up on his shoulders in a fireman’s carry, and they bolted across the bumpy path to safety. Brady and Orrin were making their way up the hill, too, but were still out of sight. Gus, a 157-pounder, couldn’t lug Kendell’s 150-pound body very far before he needed a breather, so after 100 yards or so, he lowered Kendell’s legs to the ground to rest for a second.

Kendell could barely stand. He remembers every single moment of the attack and its aftermath, but he also remembers how woozy he was. His head was pouring out blood like a scene from a horror movie, with wounds that eventually required 60 staples to sew it back together again.

As they rested for a few seconds, they finally saw Orrin and Brady struggling up the mountain toward them. Brady’s brain couldn’t even handle it. He still was cradling his arm against his body, and he turned away. He was so happy he couldn’t look — his brain couldn’t process that Kendell wasn’t dead. Even when they met up and all limped down the trail together, looking over their shoulders for the bear, Brady couldn’t bring himself to look at the guy who saved his life.

Eventually, they’d made it a mile or two away from the attack scene and reached a spot where an ambulance was going to pick them up. Brady finally broke down and looked at his friend. The tears began to flow, and he ran over and gave Kendell a huge hug. They both had blood pouring out of their bodies, and both had one arm that was almost useless. It was the best hug they’d ever had.

When the EMTs assessed both, they called in an emergency helicopter for Kendell but took Brady to the closest hospital, in Powell, only a few miles from Northwest’s campus. He said goodbye to his friend and thanked him again for saving his life. He promised he’d check on Kendell as soon as he could. The helicopter would be taking Kendell to the trauma center in Billings, Montana. His wounds weren’t quite life-threatening, but he needed a level of emergency repair work to his head and face that only a large hospital could provide.

They couldn’t believe what happened, for sure. But they also couldn’t believe they were alive. “I knew enough about grizzly attacks to know we probably shouldn’t have survived,” Brady says.

At the Powell hospital, Brady was in a room when doctors came in and told him how destroyed his arm actually was. His forearm was broken so badly that they needed an orthopedic surgeon to look at it that night, and immediate surgery was probably necessary. They told him that they’d arranged for him to be transported momentarily to a place that made him tear up again.

A few minutes later, he was loaded into an ambulance that began driving to Billings, Montana, where he was going to share a hospital room with the kid who saved his life.

BY THE TIME Brady arrived in Billings, he was extremely thirsty, and nobody would let him have any food or drink because surgery was likely. When they took him upstairs, he found Kendell in the bed beside him… who was also not allowed to eat or drink. With dry mouths, they talked and ate a few ice chips and ached all over together.

They engaged in small talk and complained about not being able to chug drinks. But mostly Brady just kept looking at his friend in disbelief. Kendell had saved his life, knowing he might have to give his, and now Kendell sat there barely able to smile, as he waited for the plastic surgeon to use skin grafts from his legs to reconstruct where the bear had bitten a hole through his cheek and into his mouth. He also needed 60 staples to fuse together two long gashes on the top of his head.

Brady’s dad, Dallas, got to the hospital around that time. He’d been on a hunting trip himself and rushed from Utah to get to Billings. He couldn’t stop staring at Kendell, marveling at a 21-year-old who risked everything for Brady.

“You saved my son’s life,” he told Kendell.

“I would have rather died than have gotten away and known I could have helped,” Kendell told him.

The nursing staff eventually relented and said Kendell could have a drink. He had some water but mentioned that the thing he wanted more than anything else in the world was a Baja Blast from Taco Bell. He didn’t need to say it twice — Dallas Lowry jumped right up and found a T-Bell 10 minutes away, and he came back with a large cup of delicious green goo.

Kendell downed his Baja Blast and prepared for surgery. His face was a wreck. The bear had bitten into his left cheek so violently that the surgeons found pieces of the bear’s teeth in his mouth. But they repaired his face and stapled his head back together, and a few days later, remarkably, both Brady and Kendell were sent back to Northwest to heal up.

They were going to live. But would they ever be the same again?

IT’S JAN. 26, about 100 days after the bear attack, and Brady Lowry says he’s not nervous. His left knee says otherwise. He’s in his Northwest College warmup gear, with his knee jittering up and down. Fast. Over and over again.

Northwest is ranked in the top 10 in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) rankings, and the school has welcomed three other top-10 teams for a series of duals in Powell this weekend. Brady recently got cleared to return for competition, a remarkable recovery, but he hasn’t wrestled a match in two full years. So yeah, he’s a little fidgety.

In his Friday night match, Brady gets taken down almost immediately. There’s a small crowd of about 100 gathered on this snowy evening, and everybody seems aware of what Brady has overcome just to put on a singlet again. So as he escapes and then notches a takedown of his own, the murmurs begin. The whole gym is rooting for him.

Brady is lean but stout, and the weight cut to 149 wasn’t easy. He has a power advantage and begins to use it. The cheers get a little louder every time he scores, and he’s built an 11-7 lead on North Idaho’s Ryan Graves heading to the third and final period. He’s showing off the talent and explosiveness that has his coach, Jim Zeigler, thinking Brady could win a national title this year. A bear attack, followed by an NJCAA championship? Good luck finding a more wild way to finish off a college sports career.

But March’s NJCAA tournament feels a long way off as the third period unfolds. Graves escapes and then begins a barrage of takedowns as he battles his way back into the match. Brady fights hard, but he’s out of gas. He had an adrenaline dump at the beginning of the match, and can’t weather the storm. His lead shrinks and then is gone. When Graves takes a 15-13 lead in the final minute, Brady bellies down on the mat. The clock isn’t at zeroes yet, but Brady is done.

He moves quickly off the mat after the loss, headgear in his hands, and Zeigler has to corral him in the corner by swinging his arm around his shoulder. He leans into Brady’s ear and says, “I’m proud of you — it was a victory for you to even step on the mat,” and Brady nods. He looks heartbroken and exhausted as he tries to leave the mat area.

But Kendell swoops in and grabs him in a side hug. He leans down and says something into Brady’s ear. It’s their mantra, the thing they say every time somebody asks about the grizzly attack and how they’re doing. “Move forward,” Kendell says. “What matters is what happens in a month, at nationals.”

Brady stares at him, and Kendell says it again: “Move forward.”

It’s the perfect phrase for these two stoic friends. Short. Direct. Literal and figurative. Vague to someone else, but incredibly specific to them. They were offered counseling by the school after the bear attack but ultimately declined. That would be looking backward. They had each other, and they would move forward.

Kendell hasn’t been cleared to return yet, but he thinks he could wrestle right now. He’ll stay on the sidelines this year, and might take over Brady’s spot next year if his friend follows through on his plan, which is to make one more push at a national title this year and then hang up his headgear.

Brady has a tough path in front of him if he’s going to win a national title this year. In fact, it’s hard to see how he even qualifies for NJCAAs, let alone finish as an All-American. He got manhandled in all three matches this weekend, the first time he’s ever lost three matches in a row. “I kept thinking maybe Kendell was going to run out and pull all three kids off Brady,” Zeigler jokes.

As Friday night’s wrestling concludes, Kendell mops the mats and then leads the charge to roll them up afterward. He’s collecting some chairs near Zeigler when the coach stops talking about the match and just silently watches him carry the chairs out of the gym.

The coach, an NJCAA legend with one national team title and 23 top-10 finishes during his 30 years at Northwest, meditates on the concept of what it means to be a friend — a good friend — as he watches them clean up. He says the story of Brady, Kendell, Gus and Orrin is one of man versus nature, survival against all odds, and a bunch of other things, too. But he also says it’s a story of four friends, at an unprecedented moment in the history of friendship. One large survey showed that the number of Americans who say they have zero close friends has quadrupled in the past 30 years. The numbers are especially bleak for men, with only 48 percent saying they are satisfied with the number of friends they have. Too many Americans don’t have someone who’d fight a parking ticket for them, let alone a grizzly bear.

Zeigler is quiet for a second, then he points a finger down toward the end of the gym.

“Look at that door down there,” he says. “That’s about how far away Kendell was from Brady that day. If you knew a grizzly was on the other side of a door attacking your buddy, would you go through the door?”

He never answers. He doesn’t need to.

A DECADE AGO, Brady was getting ready for a state wrestling tournament when his dad pulled him aside. Dallas Lowry was crying and throwing up, barely able to speak, and Brady began to realize his dad had something terrible to tell him.

And it was terrible: Brady’s mom, Trina Jo Lowry, had died in a car accident. She’d been a local college gymnastics coach and got Brady started in sports. Now she was gone.

He cried with his dad for a little while, then Dallas began to gather up all the wrestling stuff to head home and mourn some more. But Brady stopped him. “She’d have wanted to see me wrestle,” he said.

“Are you sure, Brady?” his dad asked.

“Yes,” Brady said, and he wrestled. Some parents made bracelets of his mom’s favorite saying: Run that mile, climb that rope. That weekend, the mile was the tournament, and the rope was winning it, and Brady Lowry did both.

Brady felt like his mom was an angel on his shoulder that day, and he thinks she has been there ever since. He walked away from wrestling last year, taking a plumbing job and living in the woods in Idaho. He had a girlfriend, and he went shed-hunting any time he wanted. Life was good. But he felt like something kept tapping on his shoulder to go back and make one more run at a national title.

He stayed in touch with Zeigler, and the tapping on his shoulder got harder and harder. So this year, after finishing seventh as a freshman, losing his sophomore season to COVID, then sitting out last year, Brady came back to Powell on a title hunt. He also missed being around his teammates, so when he got back to campus he spent a lot of time hanging out with guys like Gus Harrison and Orrin Jackson.

One day, Gus introduced him to Kendell, and they started hanging out. By mid-October, they had become better friends than you’d think could happen in six weeks.

Then the bear attack happened. As they sit together and reflect on that day, Brady leads most of the conversation. He has an easy laugh and a sense of how to tell a story, and he narrates what happened that day like a strong play-by-play guy. Kendell is quietly forceful when he does speak. He often chimes in with one sentence that makes it all make sense. He’s Aikman to Brady’s Buck.

Brady is describing the bear in vivid detail. He’s talking about how she was mangy and smelly, with yellowish fur instead of brown. Kendell listens and nods along for 30 seconds. When Brady is done, he says, “It was a gross bear. It smelled like meat and guts and nasty stuff.”

Later, Brady is saying how five wildlife officers went back to the scene to investigate and found Kendell’s bag. They went on horseback, he says, with guns drawn, in what one officer told Brady was among the most intimidating scenes he’d ever seen. There was blood everywhere, and they couldn’t shake the feeling that the bear was in the brush somewhere, watching them. They found the bag, took some samples, then rode off as soon as possible. “I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” the guy told Brady.

Brady says he understands the attack. That they walked into her living room, that she likely had babies to guard, that he doesn’t feel anger toward her. “We were in its house,” Brady says, with a surprising amount of matter-of-factness. “It had the same fight or flight instinct we have if somebody comes in our house.”

When Brady finishes, Kendell looks up from his lunch and simply says, “She was protecting her cubs, and she definitely did her job.”

Does he feel anger?

“Maybe,” Kendell says. Five seconds go by, and he finally adds, “Kind of. Sort of. She roughed me up.”

Brady doesn’t say anything from across the table. He knows his friend could have probably escaped unscathed and called 911 and nobody would have thought less of him. Instead, Kendell Cummings did everything he possibly could, more than most of us would, and because of that, he sits across from his good friend, healed up but scarred forever, having gotten the worst of a grizzly bear attack.

In the days after the Oct. 15 incident, both wrestlers did some interviews and talked to coaches, family and teammates. But mostly they turned to each other. Who else could really understand what happened to them out there? Or what they should do next?

Finally, they came up with their own idea for therapy: They had to go back out into the woods.

IN LATE JANUARY, Brady and Kendell drove about a half hour from the Northwest campus, up into the wilderness of Wyoming again. They were nowhere near the Bobcat-Houlihan trail — neither one thinks they want to go back to the exact spot they were at when the mama grizzly attacked.

They walked into the brush with the same basic goal of finding horns, and they accomplished it. But the bigger ambition was to wade into the woods again, together, and walk back out, together. For a few hours, they hiked side-by-side — like, thisclose together — and the hair on both of their necks never went down. They both had guns and bear spray, and that helped them feel a little safer.

“When I was walking next to him and could see him, I felt fine,” Brady says. “But the minute we split up and I walked through some thicker stuff, I felt sketchy.”

At one point, they found an elk carcass, which can be a huge warning sign of a hungry bear in the vicinity. Both of them immediately backed off and scanned the perimeter. Kendell threw stones at the dead animal, then into the brush all around. After a few minutes, they both quickly proceeded. It felt like a minor triumph. By the end of the afternoon, they’d found some antlers and, more importantly, some peace going forward.

A few weeks later, Brady qualified for nationals. But he had one of the worst records in the tournament (1-4) and was unseeded. The victory was in just getting there.

But then a remarkable thing happened. Brady pinned the No. 12 seed in the first round. Then he decked the No. 5 seed in the next round. Then he took out the No. 4 seed in the quarters. The whole arena was buzzing about Brady, and there were audible oohs and aahs in the semifinals when he jumped out to an 8-1 lead on the No. 1 seed, Dylan Brown of Northeast Oklahoma.

But Brown came roaring back and eventually pinned Brady. He dropped down to the consolation bracket and finished fifth. Against all logic, Brady Lowry was an All-American with a final record of 5-6, with a bear attack four months before. As the tournament wound down, he also found out that coaches had given him the NJCAA sportsmanship award. Kendell was there at NJCAAs cheering him on. He will continue to heal up, with hopes of cracking the lineup next year. By then, Brady expects to be done with school, and he hopes to move back out to Idaho.

They both recently got tattoos that you might not expect. Brady asked for the face of a grizzly bear on his chest, while Kendell went with a small bear paw print on his. They think they’ll go their separate directions at the end of the school year, maybe hundreds of miles apart, so there might not be too many shed hunts left for them. But they’ll always have an incredible 3-minute moment of survival that bonds them together for eternity, and the tattoo is a relic of overcoming the biggest struggle of their lives — together.

So when they think about the end of this year, when Brady plans to be done at Northwest, they don’t call it moving on. More like, they’ll move forward.


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