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A year and a half after gunshot to stomach, Norman County West basketball player hits 1,000-point career mark

Payton Rufsvold of Norman County West practices with his team Wednesday in Halstad. He recently scored his 1,000th point in basketball despite suffering an accidental gunshot wound Sept. 3, 2010. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

HALSTAD, Minn. - A Mountain Dew bottle. A neon green-colored plastic bottled filled with 20 ounces of soda.

It's sold in countless convenience stores across the nation, including the Cenex Station here in town.

This is what saved Payton Rufsvold's life.

"I just got some sour Gummi Worms and some pop in case I got thirsty," Rufsvold said. "I didn't open it. No reason I didn't open it."

Rufsvold and his friend Alex Lee were invited to the house near Grandin, N.D., with the idea there'd be other people.

Yet when they arrived, they found a lone pickup and a friend who had been drinking for a few hours.

The friend waved a gun around and said it wasn't loaded. He took the shotgun, fired it at Rufsvold and shot him in the stomach.

Rufsvold was holding his Mountain Dew near his stomach and it was the first thing the bullet hit.

"I just remember hearing the bottle pop," said Lee, who was just a few feet away. "It just sounded like a loud explosion."

All of this occurred Sept. 3, 2010.

All of this is what made Monday so special, when Rufsvold, a senior on the Norman County West basketball team, scored his 1,000th career point.

"I coached in Waubun before coming here, and there I had two kids who each passed the school scoring record," said Norman County West coach Ron Ohren. "But what Payton did, that was more special."

Being scared

Dave Rufsvold is the principal and athletic director at Norman County West.

He remembers telling some people at Hillsboro they could use the facilities at the school for an upcoming event. So when he saw someone from Hillsboro calling his phone, he figured it was about sports.

It was about his son instead.

"I was at home watching the Twins," said Dave Rufsvold. "I was told my son had been shot, and they were taking him to Hillsboro."

Dave Rufsvold remembers being told about all the particulars in that moment - his son loaded by Lee into a pickup, heading to meet an ambulance in Hillsboro.

The memory makes a happily married man and father of three break down and cry.

"Yes," Dave Rufsvold says in a shaky voice with tears flowing down his red cheeks when asked if he was scared he would never see his son again.

Rufsvold was airlifted from Hillsboro to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo.

The gunshot wound meant doctors would have to remove some of Rufsvold's small intestine and repair two fingers on his left hand.

If it wasn't for a Mountain Dew bottle, doctors told Dave and Lori Rufsvold, their first-born child would be dead.

Road to recovery

Ohren admits he didn't want to visit Rufsvold in the hospital. He was afraid of seeing one of his favorite kids connected to machines, not knowing if the worst was over.

"I went in to go see him, and he was sitting up in his bed and he looked fine," Ohren said. "It made me feel better to see him. He showed me his left hand, and he wasn't worried. He told me he couldn't shoot with his left hand anyways."

Doctors had told Rufsvold he might not play at any point during the 2010-11 season. They were wrong.

"He played all last season," Ohren said with a smile on his face. "He only missed one game. That's it."

Rufsvold hasn't missed a game this year, either. He's Norman County West's star player. He leads the team with 26 points per game, which is one of the highest averages in the area.

He's received some interest from colleges about playing. College ball or not, his plan is to be an elementary education teacher.

"I love little kids," Rufsvold said. "They're fun to be around."

Ohren recalls how a few days ago he and Rufsvold got back from a game and there were four little girls playing basketball in a gym.

Rufsvold stopped what he was doing and played a game of 1-on-4 with the girls.

"Here he is, an 18-year-old kid on a Saturday night," Ohren said. "And he's spending time with these little girls. They were so grateful."

And all of this was made possible by a plastic bottle.