BLAINE, Minn. — Anthony Janisch, or “Tony” to his family, hadn’t been on a bicycle since July.
The 16-year-old sophomore at Blaine High School had been dealing with a hip injury for two years that sidelined him from wrestling and caused him chronic pain. But last Thursday, March 19, he felt strong enough to get on his bike. The next day, he went out again with his brother Tanner, 15.
“I told my husband, ‘I’m so glad he’s out riding a bike,’” Tony’s mother, Jennifer Janisch, said through tears.
That bike ride would end in tragedy when Tony was fatally struck by a suspected impaired driver in Blaine.
An injured athlete
The fourth of six children (five boys and a girl), Tony, of Coon Rapids, had wrestled since he was 5 years old. His older brothers Tim, 20, and Trae, 19, were state ranked and Tony wanted to follow in their footsteps.
Two years ago, he injured his left leg playing football and was diagnosed with a hip labral tear. He spent the next year doing physical therapy to heal it.
But the therapy wasn’t working. The tear wouldn’t heal. He was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, a medical term for a hip socket that doesn’t fully cover the ball portion of the upper thighbone.
To fix it, he’d need surgery. His parents sought out one of only a handful of specialized surgeons in the state that could repair Tony’s hip.
In July, he had an operation that required rods and screws to hold his hip in place.
When Tony woke up from surgery, he felt a numbness from his mid-thigh down to his toes and he had developed drop foot, meaning his foot would drag, rather than step like it should. The doctors said nerves had been damaged and couldn’t predict how long it would take to heal, or if it would heal completely.
Tony had two months of chronic pain, his mother said. He couldn’t stay in one position very long. He wouldn’t be able to go to school his first trimester.
After doing school at home and graduating from a wheelchair to crutches and a brace, he decided to try to go to school second trimester.
“It was very tiring for him, but he did OK,” his mother said.
On the mend, finally
By Christmas, he was ready to ditch the crutches.
“We were just so happy when he was able to walk with his brace,” his mother said. “He went to school without his crutches. That was a huge milestone. He was slowly getting better.”
Last Friday, Tony, his brother Tanner and a friend decided to go for a bike ride together.
Tony was still hurting and would tire easily, so Tanner would tow him behind a motorized scooter at times to give him a break.
The group was riding east on 129th Avenue in Blaine about 6:30 p.m.
Witnesses told police that the boys were riding in the street, but were sufficiently off to one side of the roadway that they weren’t impeding traffic, and that any driver would have had a full opportunity to see them and avoid a collision.
Daniel Aaron Rodman, 28, of Blaine, was traveling west in his Saab on the same road when he hit Tony head-on. He has been charged with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and accused of driving while impaired, according to an Anoka County District Court criminal complaint.
“I was at home. Tanner called me and I couldn’t understand him, but I knew something was wrong,” Jennifer Janisch said. “I was raising my voice at him to calm down. I knew it was something bad.”
She jumped into the car and drove to the boys. Tanner held his brother in his arms until the ambulance arrived. Tony died at the scene.
A loss compounded
“They did everything together,” Jennifer said of Tony and Tanner. “They shared a room together. Tanner was just so good to him. I can’t even count how many times Tanner went downstairs to get Tony something. He just never complained. He did everything for him. They were close.”
Jennifer described Tony as a joker who wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in life yet, except get healthy enough to wrestle his senior year.
“He was outgoing. He always wanted to be the class clown, but more in a smart-alecky way,” Jennifer said. “He liked to tease people. I could hardly say ‘What do you want for dinner’ without him coming up with some kind of way to mess with me. He was funny. He had a quick wit. He just always had a big smile.”
And he was particular about his hair, never leaving the house unless it was styled to his liking, she said.
Tony is survived by his parents, Jason and Jennifer Janisch, brothers Tyler, 22, Tim, 20, Trae, 19, and Tanner 15, and his sister, Olivia, 11. The family is having a private service but plans a larger memorial later, after the coronavirus crisis subsides.
“We are waiting until all the restrictions are lifted and we’ll have an actual funeral Mass,” Jennifer said. “I just can’t stand the thought of not having something. He deserves to have something.”
A GoFundMe campaign has been established for the Janisch family to cover expenses related to his death.