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.