So after writing one entry, I started thinking about the story that I said wasn't my edge of never story. It kind of is, so here it is. If only one entry per person is permitted, then use post lucky 13 as my entry.
My first visit to Europe had been to train for three weeks at Hintertux, Austria in October, 1977. My second trip to Europe within 2 months was, remarkably, more exciting than my first one had been. This time, I was off to race downhill in the World Cup with the U. S. Alpine Ski Team. My teammates included Andy Mill, Ron Biederman, Karl Anderson and Doug Powell. The competition was Franz Klammer, Ken Read and Bernard Russi to name a few. I was psyched and I was ready to rock!
The first race venue was Crans Montana, where we waited for days for the snow to stop falling so we could race. Then we were off to Tignes, France for a Europa Cup downhill followed closely by the Val d'Isere Criterium de la Premier Neige. I raced the downhill there, too. During an inspection I was talking with the team doctor, Duane Messner. He told me about Roland Collombin who broke his back in Val and how he had treated Collombin on the slope.
On course, Tignes, France
Then we were off to Val Gardena. We drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel and across Italy, just south of the mountains. We arrived in the Dolomites and spent a little time free skiing at the site of the upcoming race. We had inspection and then our first training run. Off I go out of the start.
I woke up laying on the snow. Dr. Messner was there and asking me questions. I said my back and hip hurt. I had knocked out and broken teeth as well. Messner calculated that I probably had a broken back as I had a large piece of fiberglass missing from the top of my helmet along with the back pain, so he asked for a helicopter to be sent to evac me from the course. It took a while to show up as another racer had also fallen and they had dispatched the helicopter for him as well. He didn't require an airlift after all, so when they called off the request, it wasn't realized for a while that it was still needed for me.
I was placed in the helicopter and flown to Merano where there was an orthopedic hospital. During the flight I had to pull my legs up a little as I was just a little too tall for they space they had for me in the chopper. Dr. Messner flew in the helicopter with me and stayed with me for the first couple days in the hospital.
The nurses didn't want to cut off my downhill suit as they knew that it was valuable, so a doctor stepped up and started cutting away. They took x-rays and put me in a room. I had a traction unit pulling on my head to relieve any pressure on my spine. In the first hours, I had multiple root canals performed by an Italian dentist that spoke very little English. It was a bit surreal.
I was given a card with English/Italian/German translations.
The gravity of the situation bore down hard on me. I hadn't any paralysis, but I was going to stay in Italy under observation until they could put a body cast on me and fly me to New York. I was to be observed for another two weeks by a team doctor. I celebrated Christmas and my 20th birthday in Italy, flat on my back.
A gift from a local that came to visit me in the hospital
Ski racing had been my life for several years; from my first race, which I won at age 13, to racing on the World Cup. In the last years of racing I had been in 3 World Cup downhills, placing in the top 20 once, just a couple positions behind my idol, Franz Klammer. I had been to Portillo to train DH. I went to Aspen, Boulder and Fort Collins for dyrland training, physical testing and wind tunnel tests. I'd competed in the U.S. National Alpine Championships and been Junior National Downhill Champion.
Life is precious. Could I risk another accident like I had just survived. My T4 and T5 vertebrae had been compressed to within a mm of impinging on my spinal cord. Any further compression of my spine could leave me paralyzed. My Edge of Never moment came not on the slopes but in a hospital bed. I made the greatest and most difficult decision in my life to that point. The second day after my accident, while still in traction, I decided that I would not race anymore.
I returned to college, graduated and worked for Apple Computer for four years. Then I became self-employed and have remained so until the present. I skied the next winter after my accident and ever since.
In the fall of 2002 I returned to ski racing. I competed successfully in USSA Masters and most importantly to me, was able to quit ski racing standing up, on top of my game.
DH training run at Keystone, Colorado
Ironically, it was 25 years after my accident, almost to the day, while at my first Masters race that I found out what had happened. A racer named Bob McKee, a former member of the Irish Ski Team, was racing in the Masters race and asked if I was the guy that had fallen in Val Gardena in 1977. I said I was and asked if he had seen my wreck. He had been at Val Gardena, but not racing, and had seen the fall. I had put my head down briefly while tucking and my skis had split sending me onto my head in an instant.