On January 9th,2016, exactly one week after my 17th birthday, I tore my ACL and partially tore my MCL and meniscus in my right knee skiing in southern Colorado. I tore it early in the day, a beautiful bluebird day with knee-deep powder stashes yearning to be shredded and schralped by skiers and snowboarders alike. I was on a weekend trip with some of my closet friends, who also happen to be some of the best young skiers from my town. We had been psyched on this weekend for weeks, and the weather seemed to be psyched for us as well. The Colorado clouds had dumped feet of wet, white flakes the week prior, and by the weekend they had for the most part moved on, leaving behind the most beautiful landscape of blue and white, land and sky.
It happened early, really early, on one of the first runs of the day, and I remember it being the result of a fall I took at the bottom of a steep narrow chute we all skied on Alberta Peak atop Wolf Creek. It all happened so quickly and at the time seemed very insignificant. Within 45 seconds of catching an edge and falling however, I was skiing down the rest of the mountain. I knew my knee hurt, and hurt bad, but not bad enough to pay much attention to it and defiantly not bad enough to stop skiing. I skied the rest of the day with my group of three friends. It turned out to be an amazing day of Colorado powder skiing. We finished the day with close to 6 hours of breathtaking, fast hiking and skiing. That evening, sitting around the cabin with the rest of the members of the group we had taken this trip with, I began to get more worried about my knee as it had swollen to the size of a football and I only had roughly 30 degrees or so of motion. That night unfortunately, despite everyone’s hopes, we decided that I would not return to the mountain the next day.
By Monday I couldn’t walk on it at all and crutched my way around school. The rest of the week hopes were high that the swelling would decrease and I would be able to walk and ski again soon. Eventually, however, after days of pain and constant swelling, we decided to go to the doctor.
I can remember the night my parents told me the doctor had called with the results of the MRI. They tried to be as light hearted as possible, knowing that the news they were given and were about to pass on to me was the opposite. It was heartbreaking. I remember it was the first time my girlfriend heard me cry. As a kid who was raised outside, I found entertainment not in TV but in exploring the canyons and mountains that my hometown is built upon. I was raised knowing the weekends were made for camping, climbing, kayaking, skiing, or hiking instead of movies and video games. I learned to be tough not by violence in video games, but by scraped knees and broken bones. I learned to love and respect wild things and places and that the places untouched by human hand were the most sacred places on this earth. As a teenager, I was happiest when I was outside. My free time was consumed by runs through the forests and climbs up mountains. There was always dirt under my fingernails and whatever scrapes, scars, or sprains my last escapade left me with. This time however, I was left with more than a sprain.
I would like to mention for the sake of parents and anybody with a fully developed frontal cortex that we were being safe the day I was hurt. We were all skiing within our abilities and we were not taking unnecessary risks. We were all very competent, smart skiers but, unfortunately for whatever reason I had a momentary lapse of balance, causing me to catch an edge and end up on my back.
Falling is a part of skiing. Falling is a part of life. If you are not falling you are not pushing yourself. If you do not fall you will never learn, never grow, never fail, never succeed. Pain is also an crucial part of life. If you do not know pain, you will not know pleasure. If you live sheltered from pain, from falling, you will never find yourself in those moments of insane, intense, unrivaled, unbelievable bliss. Yes, when you fall you get hurt; however, I think it is from pain and suffering that we can grow the most. I do not regret falling that day. This injury, and the past 8 months, have taught me things I would never learn in school yet I think will change and sculpt me, will guide me and help me in life. I learned about sacrifice and letting go, about giving up and working hard, about pain and suffering and more pain and suffering. I learned about myself and my limits and how to push those limits to their edge and then a little more. I learned how to work harder than hard work. I learned to stop taking things for granted, even things like the ability to walk, and I learned that I am not invincible. I learned more about gratitude and selflessness. It help me decide what I want to do for the rest of my life and how to do that. I learned about love and heartbreak though it all and learned about patience and determination. I do not regret falling for I have learned more about myself, life, and how to live in the world around me, then I have ever leaned before. Each one of these (gratitude, hard work, limits) deserves an essay of their own and I eventually hope to wrap my head around them and write concise essays giving my two cents.
I went into surgery a month and a half after after my injury. I had chosen my surgeon after meeting with several doctors and getting a wide range of opinions from physical therapists and other skiers who had the same operation. The morning of February 23rd was cold and dark. I remember getting up before the sun had started to rise. I was with my mother and father and we were staying in a hotel near the hospital and within an hour of waking up I was in a sexy blue surgical dress. The anesthesia crept up on me and after a very nerve-racking morning of white hospital walls, nurses, forms and papers, stretchers and IVs, I was asleep again. When I woke up after surgery it was cold again. This time however it was dark. I was in a bight outpatient room with my parents standing near, eager to hear how I felt. Pain. Lots of pain. Morphine. No more pain. The rest of the day is a gray foggy cloud that I cannot see through.
I originally started physical therapy a couple weeks after I fell to try to gain as much mobility and strength to prepare myself for surgery and post-surgery physical therapy. I started therapy again just a few days after surgery. It soon turned into one of the most enjoyable parts of my day as it was the only part of the day I wasn’t a prisoner to my bed or couch. I was blessed with an amazing physical therapist who I developed a special friendship with. Being an athlete himself and knowing about the virtual limits of your brain and the real limits of your body he pushed me, challenged me, motivated me, and helped me begin to walk without crutches within a week or so of surgery.
Walking was just the first step, and my life and daily routine quickly evolved around recovery. As I was saying earlier, I was born to run and climb, and anyone who knew me pre-injury knows that I cannot sit still. I cannot not be active and yet I had no choice. I couldn’t even walk on my own two feet. I think I could've fallen into despair and depression about not being able to do everything I love. I will admit to having horrible nights of crying and anger, feeling depressed, feeling guilty, feeling as if my life was over, but it was through a very rigorous recovery program, my family, my physical therapist, and my friends that I did not let those moments of negativity take over me. I learned a new kind of climbing. I learned to climb above the depression and despair to the happiness and joy of life. I would quickly return to the positive, hardworking artist and athlete that I was inspired to be by the people around me. From the start though it was clear that recovery was not going to be quick. Even now, 8 months after my injury, I am not fully recovered. I am barely - justbarely - returning to real climbing and running at the most basic and easiest levels. My right leg is still much weaker than my left. I am still humbled by the slow process of healing.
I will one day return to the level of climbing, skiing and running I was at and will soon become even better, stronger, and more motivated. I am not invincible but I am strong. I am a warrior and I will fall again. I will get up again. I will always get up. I will be wild again.
This has been the journey of a lifetime and possibly the first of many. I am lucky. I am so insanely lucky. This journey began because I had the opportunity to do what I love to do. I was gifted with the opportunity to ski in beautiful Colorado. I am lucky I live in a place where amazing amazing surgeons and hospitals are within a few hour drive. I am blessed with two parents with the financial aptitude and insurance to make surgery on option. I am blessed with beautiful friends. I was lucky to have a physical therapist who pushed me to the limit of body and beyond the limit of my mind. I am lucky enough to live in a place where I can pursue what I love and parents who also support it (when they are not overly worried).
I would like to personally thank my amazing surgeon and his PA- Dr. Ritchie and Micah Benson. I would like to thank my dear friends Ryan Mielke, Kai Coblentz, and Max Herman who were on the trip with me. Thank you, Chris Buntain for keeping me honest, humble, and motivated. I am especially grateful thanks to my two good friends who inspired me to get better so we could have amazing adventures together soon- Ryan again and John Rees. I could not have recovered as quickly or as well as I did without the constant support and hard work of Mike Hoog, my physical therapist. Thank you Mike. Thank you everyone. Thank you to the unnamed friends, family, teachers, coaches, and doctors who selflessly helped me.
Finally, I would like to thank the most amazing two people in the world. Without them, this story, my story, would not be the same story. They are the the two strongest, smartest people I know and have the two biggest hearts I have ever seen. They are patient and loving and remain grounded, honest, and mindful. They do not believe in giving up nor do they believe in short cuts. I will forever be grateful to the most beautiful, amazing, inspiring people for making this journey of recovery possible. Thank you Mom and Dad. I love you eternally.