Northwest College wrestlers ‘in face of adversity, made it through’ months after grizzly bear attack

Northwest College wrestlers
Posted at 2:13 PM, Feb 26, 2024

POWELL, Wyo. -- The terrifying encounter is well-documented, even drawing national attention.

“I’ve probably told the story a thousand times,” said Northwest College wrestler Orrin Jackson.

“Hundreds (of times), probably,” admitted teammate Kendell Cummings.

Trappers head wrestling coach Jim Zeigler can’t put a number on it.

“A lot ... a lot,” Zeigler recently told MTN Sports before a wrestling practice in Powell. “And it serves up emotion every time.”

KTVQ delivered the story in October of 2022 on Cummings and three of his teammates shed hunting – searching for antlers – about 60 miles southwest of Powell near the Bobcat-Houlihan trailhead. The four had split into pairs.

“Me and my buddy, unfortunately, got attacked by a bear,” Cummings recalled. “He got attacked first. I ended up grabbing the bear … pulling it off him.”

You read that right. Cummings attempted to pull the bear off Brady Lowry.

“Then the bear chewed on me for a while,” Cummings continued. “Fortunately, I lived through it, and we all made it out of there alive.”

Jackson vividly remembers his first sight of Cummings during the rescue.

“The most gruesome thing was when we found Kendell ... he was walking down to us and his entire body was just covered in blood. (His) cheek was all tore up and he was scalped on the head.”

Teammate August Harrison was paired with Jackson as they found Lowry and Cummings.

“Skin pretty much falling off his face and pretty much drenched and covered in blood,” he said.

Reflecting now on his impulse to physically attack a bear, Cummings admits he sometimes thinks to himself, who does that?

“I do from time to time think back on it,” he said with a chuckle. “It was just instincts and it happened so fast. Being underneath it, it felt huge. I’ll bet it was, like, 400 pounds.”

The four friends are thriving today. Three of them spend a lot of time in the team’s small locker room which seems to double as a home away from home.

“We take turns getting laundry done most of the time,” Jackson explained to MTN Sports as he dumped a load of clothing into the dryer.

Jackson is ranked No. 5 in the country at 165 pounds and will compete this week at nationals as Northwest College takes eight to wrestle in the tournament. This will be Jackson’s last as he heads toward graduation.

“My goal is to win a national championship,” he said. “If you’re not going to the national tournament with that goal, then you shouldn’t be going at all.”

Cummings is on the Trappers’ roster and has played a big role working out with teammates but didn’t qualify for this week’s tournament.

“I just kind of train with the guys and help them get to where they want to be,” he said.

He’ll graduate with a business degree and eventually wants to open a real estate brokerage.

Harrison graduated last year and is now a volunteer assistant coach for the Trappers.

“I love it,” he said. “I love watching the kids come in and improve every day and help them make their goal.”

“He’s been a big help to me, helping me perfect little details in my wrestling,” Jackson said.

Lowry, the friend Cummings saved that Saturday afternoon, suffered a compound forearm fracture, grinded through a three-month recovery then completely defied odds at last year’s national tournament. Zeigler is still amazed.

“Having not won much (last season), he rolls all the way to the semifinals with three pins beating a four seed, a five seed and ends up on the podium in fifth place,” Zeigler recalled, beaming with pride.

Lowry graduated last year and is now a plumber while volunteer coaching at a high school in Idaho. Though distance separates him, four remain close.

“A huge success story for each and every one of these men,” Zeigler said.

He also noted that a large film crew – as many as 16 staffers have been on campus -- expects to wrap up shooting a documentary on these remarkable events this summer.

Meantime, the friends do still shed hunt, though they are far more prepared and vigilant now.

“There’s a lot of mountains that are a lot safer than where we were that day, so we try to hang out there as much as we can,” Jackson said, also noting they take bear spray and other precautions.

Zeigler admits he’s always been uneasy with the outings, and still is more than ever.

“Yeah, I’m still uncomfortable with it,” he said. “Just the thought of it terrifies me.”

Still, Zeigler is proud Northwest College has provided every opportunity for the guys to succeed -- and that they’ve done it.

“True resilience,” he said. “In the face of adversity, they made it through.”