CALHAN - Dallas Dean wasn't able to walk across the gym to accept his diploma at Ellicott High School's graduation ceremony Sunday. He had to use the wheelchair that's been his mode of transportation since an automobile crash six months ago left him paralyzed.
It's still the same big step he's been looking forward to.
"It's all good," he said. "It is what it is."
Dean, a football and basketball player, was driving home from his girlfriend's house near Calhan around 11 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2016, when he hit a soft patch of dirt. His car careened into the other lane, and he overcorrected, hit the clutch and brake at the same time and flipped his car on top of a metal fence post.
Over the course of two weeks at Memorial Hospital, he had five procedures to cauterize a torn vein, drain liquid from his lung and surgeries on his back and sternum.
"I wasn't awake for five minutes from my surgery when I made my first joke about it," Dean said. "It was rough, but there was nothing I could do about it."
Dean spent nearly two months at Craig Hospital in Denver for rehabilitation. The hospital specializes in helping people who have spinal cord or brain injuries.
Laura Magnuson, teacher and coordinator of the hospital's school program, worked with Dean on his studies, while he was getting physical therapy.
"She kept me on task, trying to get me to do the work when I didn't feel like doing it," Dean said.
Magnuson attended the graduation Sunday to congratulate Dean on his accomplishment.
He was able to return to Ellicott High this semester with credits for the schoolwork he did while recuperating. He also took up welding and spent a lot of time in shop class.
"My cousin's been doing it, and I saw all the cool stuff they create and I wanted to learn a new skill that could potentially help me," Dean said.
He also tried to get back in the game in other aspects of his life. The basketball team "was very supportive," Dean said. Team members let him sit on the bench with them during games.
"They let me break out in the huddle and called my name with the number I was supposed to be, No. 4," Dean said. "I was there to support my team in any way I could."
He also retained his position as class treasurer.
"I had tried to stay as connected as I could," Dean said. "My classmates didn't want to replace me."
Dean credits his family and friends for not giving up on him, and not letting him give up on himself.
"I'm so thankful - I couldn't have gotten through it and pushed as hard without them," he said.
He'll attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in the fall and study accounting.
"I don't want to be part of the statistic that on average people only work two to three years after they've been injured and then live off the government," Dean said. "I want to make as much as I can in the world."
His legs don't work now, but there's a possibility they might in the future. Because Dean damaged the nerves in his back but didn't sever the spinal cord or break it, "It's questionable if you'll be able to walk. It all depends on your body and the way it heals."
The 18-year-old is optimistic though, because at times he has sensations in his lower body.
"I'm always thinking positive and that I will walk again because a lot of the times people get depressed and your brain signals get dormant," Dean said. "I don't want that to happen to me."