Thursday, April 3, 2008

Only the Mountain and I--A Tale of Tragedy and Triumph in the Canadian Rockies

All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other
-Only the mountain and I.
--Li Po, "Alone Looking at the Mountain"

While I was out suffering through a seemingly endless array of afternoon birthday shots, my friend, Kim, was shredding the slopes of Lake Louise. After high school, she had decided to leave Edmonton behind and live the mountain dream where a life of snowboarding and skiing was interrupted only by the need to make a living. This usually meant following in the footsteps of ski bums before her by earning a meager wage as either a liftee or server at the local ski hill. At this point in time, any crappy job seemed to be worth breathing in the crisp air of the Canadian Rockies every morning.

So it was safe to say that all of us back in Edmonton envied Kim’s new zen lifestyle.

But this didn’t stop me from having a grand old time on my 19th birthday. My girlfriends and I pub-hopped down Whyte Avenue like our lives depended on it—gulping down fishbowl margaritas, pounding back tequila shots, and wiping away beads of sweat as we danced the night away. From what I can remember, it was good times all around, which is more than I can say for that throbbing headache and dreadful nausea I was feeling the next morning…

For Kim, my 19th birthday was no different than any other day in her carefree existence. She awoke first thing in the morning and geared-up to ride the first tracks—untouched fresh powder—on the ski hill before heading to work later on that day. Since faster is always better when you’re carving through fresh powder, Kim was racing her friends down each bowl, letting her snowboard seamlessly cut through the snow like a hot blade through butter. Her newly waxed board began kicking things into turbo once she hit the smooth groomer runs, and her adrenalin started peaking as the wind made her pigtail braids sway like oak branches in the breeze.

She was now in the zone—confident and euphoric—so she decided to hit a table top jump once she arrived in the terrain park. This wasn’t that big of a deal considering she had hit this kicker a few times before and Kim figured that attempting a BIG AIR was only a fitting way to end a great day of riding.

So she carved right down until she was about 200 meters from the jump before launching right for it. Kim allowed her board to quickly shift between its front and back edges in order to generate enough speed needed for a successful take-off. Once she was right on the cusp of lip at the top of the incline, Kim's momentum propelled her forward so both her, and her board were now airborne...



Who the hell is calling me at 8 am in the freakin' morning!? Seriously, it's the day after my birthday and I went to extraordinary measures so I wouldn't have to: a) leave the house today, and b) do anything productive. This better be bloody important!!!!


ME: Hel-lo...

CALLER: It's Kim...oh my God! It's Kim! [sobbing]

ME: Jasmine?? Is this you? Are you OK? What happened to--

CALLER: We went snowboarding yesterday...and it was all good. It was a powder day...great conditions...but--

ME: Oh God...what happened, Jasmine?!

CALLER: She went off a jump...and we were cheering her on 'cos she got such big air...but the way she landed...

ME: Is Kim all right?

CALLER: It was awesome 'cos she got like 20 feet of air but--

ME: OK, this doesn't sound good...

CALLER: SHE LANDED FLAT ON HER BACK!!! Oh my God...she landed on her back...


After Kim's accident, ski patrol medics had determined that she had sustained a very serious back injury. They notified S.T.A.R.S. Ambulance and she was then air-lifted back to Edmonton's University of Alberta Hospital. According to her doctors, Kim would have died right then and there had she not been wearing a helmet. But even though she was alive, things were still looking very very grim...

The impact of Kim's fall had crushed her spine and had caused permanent damage to her lower spinal chord. And over the span of a single minute, Kim had become a paraplegic.

It was completely devastating.

Kim had been a star athlete all of her life, playing on both the high school basketball and volleyball teams. She even found the time to play competitively on a club soccer team. Sports were her life. We were all heartbroken for her.

During the next year, Kim had to undergo rigorous physical therapy and by the time she was done, I had moved to another city to attend university. It didn't take long before life happened and we completely lost touch...


Years had gone by and through the grapevine, I had heard that Kim had started training as a competitive sit skiier. But at the time, I still had no idea how far she had actually gone.

So after two years of completely boycotting Facebook, I finally caved after a sudden desire to look-up long lost friends. It didn't take long before my nostalgia led me right to my old friend.

Kim had messaged me out of the blue and I was totally stoked! Not only was she a competitive sit skiier, she had joined the Alberta team just a year after her injury. In a few short years, Kim was already skiing for Team Canada as one of their star athletes. And now, at the pinnacle of her career, she was competing at the international level, even winning GOLD in the slalom at the IPC World Cup in February.

Truly amazing.

I just had to smile to myself. Leave it up to Kim to completely transcend her injury and make the best out of a seemingly tragic situation. The mountains really were her life and nothing was ever going to take that away from her.


Daisy said...

That's great to hear, BB!!! Hope you will re-connect and get to know each other again.

PS: No way you could get me to do that stuff! :P

ZenDenizen said...

That's unreal! How does one recover from such a traumatic injury?


Thanks Daisy! Oh c'mon, if I got you on a ski hill I'm sure you'd have a great time :p


Zen...I know it's pretty amazing, eh? I mean Kim was already an athlete and major go-getter as it was, but to come back from such a traumatic experience and to excel on such a high level--it really is quite mind-blowing...

karloff said...

Wow, what a bitter sweet post. Facebook is great to catch up with old friends, and maybe play some word games with, but man can it be frustrating.

Anyhow, 'nother great post, BB.

SoupNumber5 said...

Man. That is pretty wild. An awesome story. I went snowboarding ONCE. I don't know how to stop. but I went down the hill. I was enjoying the glide. But since I didn't know how to stop I just decided to roll and crash. My body was aching for a week. Seriously... snowboarding accidents are no joke.


Thank you Karloff! Good to see you buddy! Yes, it is bittersweet, eh? It really is a testament to how we are all able to rise above seemingly impossible challenges if we are committed to the process and all of the hard work that goes along with it.


Hey Soup, thanks a lot! Oh, I know, my first day on my board every season is like silent torture on my body the next day. It's like muscles I didn't even know I had are hurting ;) I've taken some pretty bad spills snowboarding that have winded me and shaken me up but there are definitely some horror stories out there. Kim truly did amazing things with an unfortunate situation...

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