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Greseth still around racing despite coma, paralyzed arm

Matt Greseth attaches a panel to his brother Michael's race car Thursday, July 20, 2017, in the Harwood, N.D., garage. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Michael Greseth was in the top 15 in the IMCA Mods points standings at the end of July. Submitted photo2 / 3
Michael Greseth leans over his race car Thursday, July 20, 2017, in his Harwood, N.D., garage. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

One of Matt Greseth's biggest rushes of exhilaration came from turning corners when he was auto racing. Turning a corner while snowmobiling in 2001 almost took Greseth's life away, put him in a coma for months and left his right arm paralyzed.

But Greseth kept turning the corner and kept racing, if not for the rush then to just prove to others he could. A national championship later, Greseth stopped racing to focus on his wife and family, but he proved he wouldn't let his accident slow him down.

Greseth continues to stay involved with racing by helping his younger brother, Mike Greseth, with his car and as the flagman at the Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo and at Norman County Raceway in Ada, Minn.

Matt doesn't remember much of the year prior or after the snowmobile accident in 2001 by the river, east of his childhood home in Harwood. He was told he and a friend collided head on while he was turning around. He was told nerves were pulled from his spinal cord connected to his right arm, he endured major brain trauma, had a blood clot removed from his head and was in a coma for two months.

"It's gone," Matt said of his memory. "It's amazing how the body works to forget. All I have from that time is what people say. It's gone."

Matt slowly learned how to walk again through physical therapy. He had to rely on his parents for most things like driving, as he learned to live life with just his non-dominant, left hand.

"You're like an adult baby," Matt said. "At a certain point, you almost feel like a burden."

Matt's biggest adjustment wasn't learning how to brush his teeth or tie his shoes, as tough as those challenges were. He said his biggest hurdle was appreciating the life he had left to live for what it was, including his racing career.

A year after his recovery, Matt's friends kept telling him he needed to give racing another try. He had raced since 1996, after he grew up with his father taking he and his brother, Mike, both West Fargo High School graduates, to races. He and his friends in Harwood built mini stocks and Matt had been hooked ever since.

Matt thought his racing career was gone with his right arm.

"You don't know how much you appreciate things until they're gone," Matt said. "I seriously doubted it was something I would be able to do, but then I progressively got better and better."

Whether it at race tracks or elsewhere in public, Matt got plenty of weird looks at his now limp arm. But he says he's learned to deal with it, mostly because he has no other option.

When Matt started racing again, he had no other choice but to figure it out. However, he only needed to make minimal adjustments to his car, like a button he would push with his knee to clean his race helmet's visor.

"I figured there was no way it was possible," Matt said. "After driving one-handed, it kind of hit me that predominantly drivers race with one hand anyway. It was a lot easier to adapt to than I figured it would be. It's all the same."

Matt was questioned by other racers how he would ever be able to race—something he had been doing his entire life—again. But that just motivated him further to outrace everyone who doubted him.

His brother won two Wissota Mod-4 national championships in 2004 and 2005. In order to win those titles, Mike and Matt had to race over 120 times across the Midwest each year. Just five years after his snowmobile accident, Matt followed with a Wissota Mod-4 national title in 2006.

"The challenge of people saying, 'I don't know if it's possible,' drove me to try harder to make it happen," Matt said. "It's an addiction. It's a rush of it's own. It's hard to explain. When you enter a corner wide open, it's fun. It's something you don't get to do every day."

But since then, Matt traded his race car for his kids—which he called a good trade. Racing took so much work that Matt wanted to prioritize his time.

But he still has enough time to help his brother, who was 11th in the IMCA Mods standings at the Red River Valley Speedway as of July 27. Mike isn't touring the Midwest anymore in search of national titles, as he too has a wife and child, but he's won two feature races this season.

"It's really all I know," Mike said. "That's the easiest way to put it. It's what our family does."

Mike and Matt's father built motors and drag raced, so the the brothers have been around cars and racing their entire lives. Mike said racing is like a drug to him, so he doesn't know when he'll ever hang it up.

"All I've ever known is to hang out in a garage and work on race cars," Mike said. "And to be able to spend time out here in the garage with my dad, brother and now little boy, it's priceless."

Matt, who runs Quality Engine and Machine in Fargo with his father, said he's now living vicariously through Mike, who owns his own heating and cooling company.

Now as the head flagman in West Fargo and Ada since 2007—his first year since he quit racing—he hopes he's involved with racing forever.

Matt is still thankful his accident wasn't worse, as bad as it was. About 10 months after his accident, he went through experimental surgery to take nerves from between his ribs and connected them to his arm, so he can bend his elbow when he flexes his chest muscle. Without it, his arm was immobile. With it, he can hold his kids.

"It was good to say to others who have a disability or something of that nature, 'Don't let that get in your way,'" Matt said. "You can do whatever you want, just as long as you put your mind to it."

Colton Pool

Pool is a reporter for The West Fargo Pioneer covering city sports and community news. He was the sports editor for The Dickinson Press covering Dickinson State athletics, high school athletics and Southwest Speedway. He graduated from North Dakota State with a degree in journalism and a minor in English. You can reach him by phone at 701-451-5715 or tweet him @CPoolReporter. 

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