Nearly 3 months ago my life almost ended. It was a moment I could neither predict or correct, but that singular moment changed the trajectory of my life. Some days I look back in anger on the accident – demanding, urging the universe to tell my why this had happened – other days I want to seclude, isolate – yet still other moments I’m energized with an unyielding desire to rebuild. It’s a rollercoaster, an incomprehensible journey of incidents and emotions. The outcome is one I’m not yet able to decipher; however what I’ve learned so far, is the power of resilience, an unrelenting spirit and a supportive network.
I think by now most people have heard about my accident in Tromso, Norway (during the Tromso Skyrace). I’ll still review the highlights. As I was on a technical section of the course, there was some rock movement or fall (I don’t remember this part – some nearby photographers who witnessed the event relayed the information) which caused me to fall from the Hapmerokken ridge-line, a total of 150ft. This included a free fall of close to 50 ft, followed by repeated tumbles and impacts with the mountain as I finally slowed momentum and stopped. My injuries were severe, but I was rescued via helicopter and cared for at the local hospital in Tromso, Norway.
I eventually returned home to Colorado, but the journey was just beginning. I had never broken a bone before, and now I had about 10 that were clearly fractured, including both of my wrists, several ribs, two vertebra, some toes, a ligament in my foot and not to mention numerous lacerations and over 200 stitches. I was grateful to be alive, yet mourning my helpless state. This is when I learned the power of resilience and positivity. I’ve prided myself on having a genuine happy demeanor. Most people know me for my smile during a race and my fervor for life and positive outlook. This is not a farce. I genuinely live my life searching for the positive – the silver lining of bad situations – it’s what makes me a good ultra runner, it’s what makes me who I am today.
I’ve encountered numerous challenges throughout my adult life, I’ve learned from them based on my positive outlook, I refuse to be broken for too long. This injury challenged every ounce of me. I was at the peak of my season – leading the Sky running Ultra series – when suddenly, I’m unable to walk, to bathe, to feed myself. I was helpless. I was completely reliant on my nurses, my family, and my friends to do daily tasks. It’s a drastic change from being such an independent person to suddenly becoming 100% dependent. Think of a couple normal activities you do everyday – now imagine needing help performing these simple tasks, and the invasion it causes to our independent lifestyles. I had to learn to let go, to slow down and to not break. I had to learn to be positive – even in the most challenging circumstances I had ever faced.
I didn’t let myself give up, even though every day I had cried more that I had ever cried before – out of frustration, sadness, anger or exhaustion. I found a way to keep going, to keep living and to keep staying positive. I’m not sure what motivated my positive demeanor, but I’m grateful for it. Although in certain moments I can be down, dejected and wanting to give up, I don’t stay there for long. Instead I look for the silver lining, the opportunity to learn and to improve. This is an important trait to my personality, but it is also something we can learn.
Injuries are some of the hardest events in an athlete’s life. It forces a change in routine, in energy levels and management of emotions – these all have significant effects on how we cope and can show up in every day life. What I’ve learned so far throughout this injury is the importance of positivity and no matter what, trying to find a positive spin on a horrible situation. Even though my return to trail running is far off (on the order of months or a year) I am alive. I wasn’t paralyzed. My skull wasn’t fractured. My body – but more importantly my spirit – was resilient and I’m still in the process of learning exactly how resilient I can be. This is an opportunity for me to become a new version, different, yet stronger in ways I couldn’t have manifested without this accident. In a way I’m lucky.
Resilience is also a product of our environment and I know it would be immensely harder to recover without the supportive network I have encountered in the trail community. In addition to my immediate family, I have learned about my extended family in the trail running community. Even though I am an independent person and don’t necessarily rely on community every day, this accident has shown me how important community is. My trail running family has been a security blanket, helping me to maintain a resilient and positive attitude. When I didn’t have a home to safely live in, my community found me one, when I couldn’t drive or cook or walk, my community was there to help me. There are so many individuals and groups to thank for this, but let this be a reminder, that we are not alone, and having a community is immensely important to fostering a positive outlook.
We are all unified by what we love, and we are all unified by struggle. The common thread here is positivity – if we can see it amidst the struggling. Each presents a unique opportunity. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from my accident, that I survived – yes – but more importantly that I’m learning and making the most of my present moment.
I share your personality trait of positivity and a silver-lining mind-set … amazing how that can get us through some dark times. You are an inspiration Hillary! Keep at it. The body recovers best when the mind lets it. Looking forward to the day when you write your “I am back on the trails” piece. Hugs and healing!
Thanks so much! I’m looking forward to that day too! In the meantime i’ll celebrate the small victories and enjoy the process. Keep smiling and generating that positivity 🙂
Being able to relinquish control to others, even when it’s really necessary, is so, so hard! We go through an amazing amount of growth when we can learn to ask for help and to receive help. Hillary, your journey is long and difficult, but you are making it with grace and poise. Thank you for sharing your resilience with us!
Thank you Maddie! It has been a difficult concept to learn, but it’s worth it in the end. I’m learning so much throughout this process, even in the most challenging times. Thanks for the support, it makes all the difference!
You are such an inspiration – resilience is a huge asset whether running or recovering and your positive outlook is such a great reminder to appreciate what we have and push through frustrations and setbacks.
Thanks so much Alyse 🙂 Keep on pushing yourself and you’ll be surprised how far you can go! Enjoy the trails!
Hillary you Orenda woman, sisu baby, shit!
“We are all unified by what we love, and we are all unified by struggle.”
You are so resilient. It’s so inspiring, I’ve been alloverthis website this morning, seeking support for my own feelings of isolation in my struggle: Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, Chronic injury, disordered eating. My heart hurts for the trail, and rest is so hard. But your story puts things in perspective.
In the end, the monkey mind of food as a means of “deserving” in recovery is rubbish.
The mountains are always there for us, waiting, patiently.
The human body is a miracle, and heals, as we let it.
No man is an island.
Life is about love and connection and simplicity.
Thank you so much. Your journey is bound for greatness, and my god, as you heal, you’ll be so much stronger on them rugged mountains!
I had the good fortune of spinning next to Hillary this evening at the gym. What a positive outlook on life and on her recuperation. I’m no doctor, yet when she told me the extent of her injuries I guessed it was six months ago or more. She’s rehabbed extraordinarily well in four months and it is certainly aided by her tremendous attitude.
Rock on Hillary and thanks for the encouragement this evening.