Letter from the Editor: It Takes a Village | SteamboatToday.com

Letter from the Editor: It Takes a Village

John F. Russell

I got the news checking in with my wife when flying back from a backcountry skiing trip in British Columbia. “You hear about Chris?” she asked. “Broke his neck skiing. Got flight-for-lifed to Denver.”

It hit me like a bombshell. Chris? A Division 1 ski racer, stud mountain bike racer and better athlete than any of us? How could he get hurt, on a run like Rainbow?

But it was true. He had hit some blind ruts left over from caution fencing that had been removed, lost his ski and landed head first on the flats. He was airlifted straight to Denver Hospital before being moved to the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Unit of Denver’s Craig Hospital, where he is undergoing rehabilitation for breaking his C4 vertebrae.

It’s a gut check for everyone, especially him. One second enjoying life as we all know it in Steamboat and the next paralyzed, with a whole new outlook on what’s truly important in life. Their goals, says Uber-wife Cindy, aren’t getting mobile enough to kayak, ski or bike again, but to simply feed yourself and brush your own teeth.

His eyes lit up when I first visited him, as if, more than ever, he appreciates what’s going on in the outside world. He stays busy with rehab through the week, but it’s the weekends when his new world bears down.

The same holds true for 15-year-old freestyle skier Kailyn Forsberg of Eagle, who, in the next room over, was paralyzed from the waist down after breaking her neck throwing a backflip at Copper Mountain. For both, family and friends are key umbilical cords to the lives they once knew and are determined to regain.

At the end of the season, I skied in the STARS Challenge, a benefit for the local nonprofit’s efforts to provide recreational opportunities for people with disabilities — people like its program director Craig Kennedy, paralyzed from the waist down after a skiing accident in 1996. As with Chris’s and Kailyn’s injuries, the cause opened my eyes even further to how lucky we are to have our health, friends and family, and such a great town to call home.

As these, and countless other examples illustrate, accidents like these happen and can change lives in an instant. And to get through them, to recover emotionally, if not physically, takes impenetrable spirit and the support of everyone around you. In short, it takes a village, which is what we have in spades here in Steamboat. In fact, our village is one of the best ones you could ever script.

Proof came in June when we held a fundraising party at Olympian Hall for Chris’s rehabilitation efforts. The community turned out in droves, with bands, restaurants, retailers, artists and individuals donating their time, products and services to aid his continued recovery. Capping an end-all silent auction was a raffle for a Moots bicycle, tickets for which sold out in two days. The event also raised home remodeling funds to accommodate Chris’s new perspective on life.

Even though this new perspective is now lower to the ground, its messaging is high on hope: Live life to the fullest, don’t sweat the small things and appreciate your friends, family and every single moment you have. Our time is preciously short on this earth, so make the most of it and be thankful while you can. It’s a lesson I plan to heed whether I’m on the dirt or at my desk, and one you should, too.

–Editor’s note: To help with Chris’s continued recovery, a Chris Arnis Benefit Fund has been set up at Wells Fargo bank downtown.

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