Except for a basketball game, the night of Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, has been completely erased from memory.

The brain has a way of pushing traumatic experiences aside. For Blake Dicken, that’s probably a good thing.

A late-night car accident ended with the Franklin native, then 15, being airlifted to the hospital with numerous injuries, including brain trauma. At first, there were no assurances that he would survive the night.

Over time, however, Dicken has not only survived but returned to his normal life. Now a junior at Franklin Community High School, he’s playing three varsity sports for the Grizzly Cubs and maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average.

Story continues below gallery

The road back wasn’t traveled quickly, however.

Game changer

On the night of the accident, Dicken played in the Grizzly Cubs’ freshman basketball game at Whiteland and then went to get something to eat with his girlfriend at the time, Morgan Hotopp.According to that evening’s police report, Hotopp’s vehicle was headed south on County Road 400W shortly after midnight when the car went off the road at State Road 44, just west of State Road 135.

“They passed our house,” recalled Blake’s father, P.J. Dicken. “It was foggy that night and she didn’t know the roads; she blew the stop sign and ran into a tree.”

Hotopp was treated and released locally; Blake, meanwhile, had to be flown to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. A spokesman at Riley Hospital for Children described him as “in good condition” the following Monday — but in the morning hours Saturday, Dicken’s condition was still a long way from good.

An MRI revealed multiple blood spots on his brain, and Dicken was kept on a ventilator until Sunday, when he was able to breathe on his own. The following day, he began reacting to commands and responding to his parents’ voices, and he was moved out of the intensive care unit.

Seven days after the accident, Dicken was walking to the bathroom with assistance, and he was moved into Riley’s rehabilitation unit shortly thereafter. Progress continued, and after three weeks in the hospital, Dicken was able to head home and return to school Feb. 11.

Classes were a challenge at first. Dicken was determined to resume the same course load he was taking on before the accident, but with his memory not at full strength it took a bit more effort to keep up.

“I had to do work at home a lot more than I did before,” he said. “Usually I didn’t really have to study a lot at home, but after that I had to study a lot more to make sure I understood everything, because it was hard to remember.”

Academic life gradually returned to normal, and Dicken has been able to keep his grades at a high level over the past two years.

Not all fun and games

The comeback trail was a bit more frustrating for Dicken from an athletics standpoint. Struggles or not, he had at least been able to go back to class and attempt to do the work.

Dicken underwent a battery of physical therapy sessions in the months following the accident, and he wound up faring well enough that he was cleared to take off his neck brace and go back to playing baseball and basketball in May — just in time to get into the final junior varsity game of the regular season.

“I think the other therapy of just being with his buddies and being out on a baseball field really helped him and kind of gave him something to look forward to,” Franklin baseball coach Ryan Feyerabend said.

Feeling good, Dicken was looking forward to playing football at the outset of his sophomore year. He took part in the Grizzly Cubs’ annual preseason camp in Angola, participating in all of the non-contact drills, and was certain he would get the okay to play.

Not so fast.

“When I went to my doctor’s appointment, I honestly thought I was going to get cleared,” Dicken said, “and my parents kept telling me not to get too excited because they didn’t know if I’d be able to get cleared. I was dead set on getting cleared, and when the doctors told me I couldn’t play it was pretty frustrating.”

Unable to take part on the field, Dicken still was able to remain part of the team. Franklin’s coach at the time, Adam Reese, allowed him to participate in the non-contact portions of practice and had him handling such duties as signaling in plays on game nights.

“He was disappointed that he wasn’t able to put pads on,” Reese said, “but I think that year was really good for him from a mental standpoint; he still felt like he was contributing.”

Dicken did get to play full basketball and baseball seasons, even appearing in 12 varsity basketball games and scoring four points — but missing out on football season left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Until he had all three sports back in his life, his return to a normal life wasn’t complete.

All the way back

Prior to the start of the 2016-17 school year, Dicken finally received clearance to start playing football again, and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact.

In Franklin’s third game of the season, a home game against Brownsburg, Dicken hauled in a pass from Jake Moore — his first varsity catch — and turned it into a 22-yard touchdown.

Finally, Blake was all the way back to being Blake.

“That felt amazing,” Dicken said. “That’s one of the coolest things that’s happened to me in high school sports.”

Dicken finished the football season with four receptions for 77 yards, and he was again a varsity contributor in basketball, playing in 19 games as a reserve for the Mid-State Conference champions.

He’s a regular for the Grizzly Cub lineup on the baseball diamond, where he’s batting .257 through the team’s first 14 games.

Keeping it going

On April 20, Dicken was one of four Indiana athletes presented with the Brady Comeback Award, a show of respect from the state’s athletics community for the work he put in to return to form on the field and in the classroom.

As far as Dicken is concerned, though, the comeback isn’t complete; he still has his senior year ahead of him, and he very much intends to make the most of it.

He’s still dealing with some fallout from the accident — deep lacerations on his left knee and right ankle, the latter deep enough to sever an artery, still cause him pain, and he still faces limitations in the weight room due to neck and back injuries. But Dicken continues to fight through it all, insisting that he’s “pretty much back to normal” at this point.

Indeed, seeing Dicken now, anyone who doesn’t know what happened to him wouldn’t suspect a thing. And while the road back wasn’t without its bumps, Blake rarely got discouraged — and his determination, coupled with the support of his family and the Franklin community, helped him push through the tough times.

“He is so well-liked by his teammates and by his coaches, because his attitude throughout that entire experience was always upbeat,” Reese added. “I’m sure he was frustrated at times, but he very rarely has ever let that show.”

Author photo
Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.