Arnold was injured in plane crash
By Barbie Porter
In moments Caleb “Cal” Arnold cannot remember, his life changed. The lessons he learned growing up in the Frazee area were building blocks to overcome an adversity few will know.
Arnold is a seasoned pilot with a few hundred hours in the air. He invited his brother Lee out for a scenic afternoon flight over Bozeman, Mont. in his 1956 Cessna 180.
“It is like a bush plane; my dream plane—one of them,” he said, adding he bought the aircraft a few months before he crashed into the unforgiving back country near the Missouri River.
The former Big Toad Lake resident recalled taking off on a crop duster strip, seeing views of the canyons lining the Missouri River and a bird’s eye view of a remodeling project that one of his companies were working on.
“My last memory was the sun going down over the Tobacco Root Mountains, and saying we should head home. I remember pointing the plane at the tower over the Horseshoe Hills and coming into the airport.”Caleb Arnold
Something happened that redirected them west, flying into the sun and back towards the river. An investigation after the crash pieced together moments that Arnold can’t recall: the tail of the plane struck a high tension powerline over the river. The first powerline snapped the tail of the plane off and cut power to hundreds of homes.
“That saved our lives,” he said, explaining the power outage sent people out to look for the cause of the sudden disruption.
The second powerline the plane struck cut the propeller of the plane. The two sons of Mark and Heidi Arnold only had the wind beneath the wings of the plane to find a place to land.
“We almost made it to a field, but smashed into a drainage ditch,” said the 2000 Frazee High School graduate. “We went down really hard, probably over 100 mph.”
Trapped in what remained of the mangled cockpit, the two laid there for hours. As copious amounts of blood drained from their bodies, the tail of the plane was found and them soon after.
The two were life flighted to two separate hospitals. Several surgeries were followed by time spent living with the assistance of breathing machines, feeding tubes and blood transfusions.
The three year anniversary of the Arnold’s gift of life after near death was on Jan. 2. That gift included challenges that may break weaker men. Infections, more surgeries and learning to walk again were a few of the struggles.
“After 30 days we both came home and saw each other for the first time (since the accident). We were both in wheelchairs.”Caleb Arnold
There was no resentment; no blame waiting for him. Instead, the brothers focused on overcoming adversity. The hurdles would be significant, including an amputation on Jan. 29, 2021 of Arnold’s leg.
“I stayed positive,” he said, adding there was no room to journey into a dark realm of self-pity. “I don’t get to be a victim. I needed to be grateful with the achievements I have, even with the constant setbacks. It is about finding gratitude in the simple things; it is a great motivator.”
The decision to amputate his leg came last year. He realized with a prosthetic leg, the active lifestyle of backpacking, hunting and skiing could be attainable.
“I doubled down with physical therapy,” he said, noting that meant working prior to surgery to reduce atrophy, then following the amputation with twice a day sessions.
Arnold said he has always been mindful of the opportunities life presented him. After the crash, his attitude of gratitude became more focused.
“It became a mindset,” he said.
Arnold contributes skills of success to small town mentality
Arnold recently visited with the Frazee Hornet wrestlers after assistant coach Clay Nagel contacted him.
“He asked if I would be interested in talking to the team about overcoming adversity and having perseverance,” he said. “I was honored he would ask me, and wanted to give back if I could.”
Arnold shared his story of the crash, as well as his rise in the business world. It all started in his rural Frazee home and the education he received at the Frazee-Vergas School District.
“We were expected to grow up quick and had a lot of freedom,” he said. “We didn’t have helicopter parents; just expectations.”
Much like learning from the community he called home, Arnold also learned on the wrestling mat under the direction of Nagel. At the age of four, the seeds of grit and tenacity were planted. While his passion led him to the sport of downhill skiing, the time he spent as a grappler shaped his life.
He explained, on the mat, wrestlers learn about goal setting and recognizing struggle and failure as opportunities.
“Failure is data rich information. It tells us what we need to work on.”Caleb Arnold
Those lessons don’t age. They were the same hard facts he had to embrace as he fought for his life, and learned to walk again so he can get back in the pilot seat.
Shifting gears again
After graduating high school, Arnold headed to Montana to hit the slopes and attend college. He did not have a game plan of what degree to work towards, and after a semester, he took a ski instructor job.
“I took a semester off and never went back,” he said. “It’s ironic because a drop out became a student for life.”
In addition to enrolling in classes for 16-weeks, Arnold learned a lot with hands-on experience. His first business venture came about when the owner of a blasting machine offered to sell him the tools, after he had helped him on a job.
“At the time, the money he wanted was significant,” Arnold said, noting he and his brother (a 2002 Frazee High School grad) took a chance on themselves.
In addition to their new business, they also worked other jobs. It took five years before their reputation for impeccable work caught up to them. They added more tools of the trade and became a well-rounded service that could tackle blasting jobs across the board.
The brothers then noticed a trend developing in log home restoration. They developed a company to serve those clients and by 2012, another fruitful business had traction. With a “hobby of collecting businesses,” the Arnold brothers added a few more along the way. Lately, Arnold noticed his enjoyment of work comes from teaching leadership skills and gravitating toward skilled people.
“That is my super power,” he said. “I surround myself with smart people and get out of their way.”
Now, Arnold is hoping to merge onto a lane that includes life coaching and helping youth find inspiration.