John Hessler

One Team, One Hope, Team Hessler

We would like to extend a very big thank you to CBS 4 / KCNC for their ongoing coverage on John's story. We are honored and very grateful for all your wonderful station has done for us.


Click here to see the online stories and videos from CBS 4.


(A special thanks to Jesse for everything!)




Woelk: Hessler gives us a reason to smile

August 18, 2006

In a world where doping, NCAA violations, arrests and the other ridiculous antics of athletes too often dominate the sports pages of your daily paper, it's nice to stumble upon that good story once in a while.

Thursday night was one of those nights.

The phone in our office rang, and on the other end was John Hessler. The former Colorado quarterback was enjoying watching the Baltimore Ravens-Philadelphia Eagles exhibition game from the comfort of the Ravens' coaches box.

It's safe to say that ecstatic doesn't begin to fully describe Hessler's mood — and hearing Hessler laugh is a reminder that miracles still do occur.

Folks in these parts remember will Hessler for two very distinct reasons.

One is his outstanding play as quarterback for the Buffaloes, particularly the 1995 season, when he replaced an injured Koy Detmer early in the year and led the Buffs to a 10-2 record, a Cotton Bowl win over Oregon and a No. 5 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.

They also remember that on Oct. 19, 2003, Hessler was critically injured in a hit-and-run car crash. Hessler was in a coma for 33 days, then spent another six months at Craig Hospital, rehabilitating his injuries.

His recovery has been an inspiration to many. The young man many thought wouldn't survive continues to make strides. Thursday, he flew across the country on his own to meet up with his former coach and a handful of ex-Buffs who were playing in the Ravens-Eagles game — including Detmer.

"I got to be on the field with Koy when he was warming up," Hessler said. "It was amazing. This whole trip has really brought back some good memories."

Hessler also had the chance to spend some time with former Buff defensive lineman Justin Bannan, now with the Ravens. Bannan had the locker next to Hessler when the two were at CU.

"He's so big now — unbelievable," Hessler said. "He remembered me, and that was awesome."

Other former Buffs in Thursday's game included Donald Strickland, Jeremy Bloom, Michael Lewis and Quinn Sypniewski. Helping orchestrate the get-together was former CU sports information assistant and current Ravens employee Patrick Gleason.

Hessler said hello to each, and also had a quick conversation with Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"Awesome," Hessler said. "I can't thank Coach Neuheisel enough for doing this. I love him for doing this."

Yes, add the name of former Buff head coach and current Ravens quarterback coach Rick Neuheisel to the list in attendance Thursday night.

No doubt, that's a name that still brings a grimace to the faces of many Buff fans. Indeed, yours truly was one of his biggest critics when he left Boulder for the University of Washington.

But say what you will about Neuheisel, then know this: Neuheisel planned the entire trip. Paid for it on his own, arranged the details and didn't ask for the publicity.

In fact, he chose not to talk about Hessler's trip. Said this was about John Hessler's recovery, not about his former coach.

Fact is, word likely would've never gotten out had it not been for some folks on the periphery who thought it deserved mention.

"Coach Neuheisel just called me earlier this week and said he'd be seeing Koy at the game," Hessler said. "He said he thought I ought to be there, too. Koy didn't even know I was coming. He was really surprised when he saw me on the field."

That's a side of Neuheisel most of us didn't know — or chose to ignore. Eight years removed from CU and in the midst of preparing for an NFL season, the former Buff coach thought a reunion with some of his former players might help one of their former teammates.

Then he took the time to make it happen.

"Awesome," Hessler said. "I'll never forget it."

Yes, say what you will — but every once in a while, there's still some good news in the world of sports.

Even the kind that makes you smile.




Neuheisel opens arms for Hessler



By Jim Armstrong

Denver Post Staff Writer


Former CU quarterback John Hessler tested positive for unusually high levels of fun Thursday night.


Hessler attended the Philadelphia Eagles-Ravens preseason game in Baltimore and sat in the coaches' box as a guest of Ravens quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel, who coached Hessler at CU from 1995-97.


Neuheisel not only arranged for Hessler to attend the game, he picked him up at the airport. Hessler, still recovering from life-threatening injuries suffered in a 2003 car accident, also spent time with former Buffs Koy Detmer, Jeremy Bloom and Justin Bannan, whose locker was next to Hessler's in the CU dressing room.


"This is awesome," Hessler said. "I love the fact that nice, caring people like this are looking out for me. I've only seen Coach Neuheisel for two minutes and I'm already asking him if I can call a couple of plays."

Hessler, who attended Broncos training camp this week, was scheduled to return to Colorado today after a tour of Gettysburg with Neuheisel.

"This is so cool," Hessler said. "There have been times when I get down, understandably so, but I'm very happy as of this moment."


The heart of a champion

Brighton Standard-Blade - CO, United States

By Kerri Long

In the 2004 movie “50 First Dates,” Drew Barrymore’s character, Lucy, has short-term memory loss – the result of a car accident.

John Hessler, sitting in a recliner in the living room of his Brighton home, points to that movie situated in a row of DVDs on a bookshelf.

“That’s a good movie,” he said. “That’s the one with Adam Sandler in it, right?”

John can relate to it, as he also suffers from short-term memory loss, after he was victim to a hit-and-run collision on Oct. 19, 2003.

Like Lucy, when he goes to bed each night, the memories of his day are erased.

“That’s the story of my life,” he said.

He writes himself notes so he doesn’t forget “Call Anthony at 4.” He has a case for his medications with each day of the week. He leaves the day before open so the next morning he knows what day it is.

“When there’s something I want John to remember, I tell him, ‘Get a pencil and paper – write this down. Tell Jason,’” said June Hessler, his mom. “He’s learning to compensate for his memory. And that’s a good thing.”

His memory is much better than he lets on, though, June said. “He has selective memory,” she said.

John can tell you the year is 2006, and that he is 31. He knows he goes to physical therapy twice a week.

He said he rides a bike and walks on a treadmill. “It’s no problem,” he said of his therapy. “I just wish the treadmill were wider.”


John said he has the most difficulty with remembering incidents and people from six months prior to his accident until present.

He does keep a few things in his current memory. An athlete and avid sports fan, it isn’t surprising a lot of his memories involve sports.

He remembers going to a Denver Broncos game, where they played the Philadelphia Eagles. He and his brother, Jason, were able to go in the Broncos locker room.

He remembers meeting Jake Plummer at a Broncos training camp. “I liked him,” he said, “as far as I can remember.”

He remembers being honored at the CU-CSU football game last year. He has a giant picture of it hanging on the wall. There he stood on the field, looking up to a huge crowd of people, all cheering for him.

“It was cool to see the crowd again,” he said. “It was really cool.”

That moment was reminiscent of his days as quarterback for the University of Colorado.

John may be best known for his performance in the 1995 season, when the sophomore stepped up after quarterback Koy Detmer was sidelined with a knee injury after the first quarter against Texas A & M.

John led the Buffs to a win that game, as well as the next week’s game against Oklahoma. He passed for 24-34, including five touchdown passes, for a 38-17 win in that game. He had 2,136 passing yards by the end of the Buffaloes’ 10-2 season.

John’s long-term memory is superb. He remembers teaching seventh-grade social studies at Vikan Middle School in Brighton, coaching at Regis High School, and his high school days in Brighton.

He remembers his longtime buddies, his old classmates, and former co-workers.

“I’ve been known to lie, though,” he said with a big smile, followed by his one-of-a-kind laugh. “But this is all true – don’t you worry.”

The comeback

After the car accident, where John’s vehicle was clipped from behind, sending it into oncoming traffic on Interstate 76, he was in critical condition, with a severe head injury and a collapsed lung.

He was in a coma for 33 days. Doctors at the time weren’t giving him much hope. June told them, “You don’t know this kid.”

His family and friends echoed what she said about John. They all knew he is a fighter, a “comeback kid” – a person with the heart and mind of a champion.

“That’s what I’ve been told,” John said nonchalantly.

John woke up from the coma with a sense of humor. When his sister, Jolene, asked him if he knew who his brother, Jason, was, he responded, “My fat head brother.” He also recognized his family and friends.

Soon, John was talking and able to eat. He spent the next several months healing and undergoing physical therapy.

But he wanted to get out of a hospital bed and go home – to live with his parents, Keith and June, in Julesburg, a small town in the northeast corner of the state. The Hesslers moved to Julesburg from Brighton in 1996.

A family’s love

John was released from rehab by the end of May. He lived with his parents and Jason, who moved to Julesburg so he could help his older brother recover.

Jason learned the rehabilitation exercises John performed while he was in the hospital, and he would work with him twice a day. He would help John get up and walk toward a wall, where he would stand, using the wall for support.

At that time, John’s balance wasn’t well enough to walk but the fact he was able to bear weight on his legs was a remarkable progress he had made since coming home.

Sometimes when he was standing, he told his family he couldn’t do it; he’s tired; he has to go to the bathroom. But they wouldn’t let him give up. They said he had to try to stand for the full 10 minutes.

“Can’t” wasn’t a word John’s family allowed him to use. They would fine him $5 every time he said it.

“My brother helped me a lot,” John said. “He pushed me, even though I fought it a lot. I love him to death, man.”

June gets choked up thinking about the love between her sons. “I often think of that,” she said.

The family also did memory and brain exercises with John, and worked with him on his writing daily.

John would spend his days playing card games with his family, going fishing, and hanging out with his son, Devin, who came for the summer. Eventually, John was walking by himself, with crutches.

More progress

In January 2005, John had surgery on the extra bone in his hip that developed while he was in a coma, which caused his left leg to extend outward at a 45-degree angle. John immediately felt better, and he began to have a broader range of motion in his hip.

A small setback from the surgery was that John developed blood clots. He started taking a blood thinner, which he continues to take.

John took his first steps up a staircase just weeks after his surgery, Jolene, his sister, recalls on his website,, It was started after his accident, to give updates from the family as well as allow people to post letters to John.

“Needless to say, there was more cheering going on during that moment than when the other ‘John’ was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton!” she wrote.

Back in Brighton

John moved to Boulder in February, living Monday through Friday at a vocational rehabilitation facility. He learned to prepare his meals and get himself ready for the day – all the skills he needed to live independently.

John’s continued progress, from learning to walk again to living on his own

takes June back in time. “It’s kind of like letting your kid walk for the first time –

they will fall, but you have to let them do it so they learn.

“This was a step forward again. It was good; it felt good.”

In March, John moved in with Jason to a Brighton town home, which has

been modified a little, including replacing carpet with hardwood floors and

adding railings along the stairs. He will soon be volunteering at the hospital a

couple days a week.

Recently, June decided John needed to get behind the wheel. She took him to an empty lot where cones were set up. “He was a little nervous at first, but he did fine,” June said.

She said they hope to find a driving school in Brighton where John can continue to work on his driving.

This spring, John helped coach the Brighton High School junior varsity baseball team. “I showed up, anyway,” he said with a laugh.

Good days, bad days

Although John has made tremendous strides in the last 2 1/2 years, he said he struggles with not being at 100-percent physically.

“It’s hard not being able to do things I once did, as active as I was,” he said.

June said he doesn’t like having to rely on others to take him places. “He said that has been the hardest part of it, and I believe it,” she said.

John said this particular day was a good day for him, but he has his fair share of bad ones.

It’s hard for him when he thinks about what he’s lost, the time he has spent recuperating – and to try to make sense of why this happened.

“There’s days when I still cry,” he said.

John’s friend, Stacy Patterson, heard him say this from the nearby kitchen. He quickly responded, “Everybody has bad days, John.”

June tells her son the same thing. “I say, ‘These feelings are nothing abnormal. You had those days when you were teaching,’” she said. “He’s getting to learn more and more negative feelings aren’t bad sometimes; they help you find something else.”

A little ways to go

“I’m very pleased with John’s progress,” June said. “We’ve all had our moments. John went through a lot of anger when he discovered his losses, which is normal. Who wouldn’t? But all in all, we’re all really pleased with the outcome. He just has a little ways to go.”


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