Book review: ‘After the Fall,’ by Craig DeMartino
Special to the Daily
Anyone who can relate to the fierce commitment of Colorado residents to physical fitness and the great outdoors will appreciate “After the Fall,” the intense and deeply personal memoir by climber and amputee Craig DeMartino. From the first pages, and as quickly as DeMartino peeled off of his anchor 100 feet up on a popular climb in Rocky Mountain National Park, the reader is dropped into the intensity of the disastrous fall that changed — and nearly claimed — the author’s life.
“There was no slow motion, no crazy notion of weightlessness,” writes DeMartino, who recalls the free fall as the terrifying beginning of a challenging and transformative life experience.
Having climbed for more than a decade, DeMartino felt confident with the technical requirements of the sport, and he knew the value of the rigidly adhered-to system of communication between climber and belayer. Every climber recognizes that learning to fall is a part of the process, and the best climbers know how to fall safely, trusting to a well-managed rope and properly secured hardware.
But climbing is inherently risky, which is partly why it appeals to so many adventurous men and women. The sport is often a focal point that brings people together, creating bonds of trust and friendship that can last a lifetime. In DeMartino’s case, in fact, climbing formed the early framework of his relationship with his spouse, Cyndy, a strong athlete in her own right.
Runaway Train Ride
On what was a typical Colorado mid-summer day, the outing to a favorite rock wall should have been routine, but, as often happens, it quickly became something much different. DeMartino’s account of the accident is a runaway train ride through those first moments and the recovery that followed, all of which leaves the reader breathless with disbelief that DeMartino did not simply become another fatality claimed by the unforgiving terrain that comprises much of Colorado’s wild and rugged landscape.
DeMartino details the elaborate and professional rescue that was undertaken to save his life, and he recalls the anguish he felt upon seeing the pity and hopelessness on the faces of his climbing partner and the rescuers doing their best to get him off the mountain. Undoubtedly, he imagined that they believed any medical care he would receive could only relieve the pain as he passed from this world. With his body so profoundly broken, it seemed a miracle that he had survived at all.
And a miracle is exactly what DeMartino believes occurred. Though the book is mostly an account of the unbelievable fall and the subsequently long and exceedingly painful recovery, it is also a treatise about faith and DeMartino’s evolution within his own beliefs. Though never once, in the middle of the intense first minutes and days of his ordeal, did his mind go to thoughts of his God, DeMartino insists that not only did a miracle occur, but he believes God intervened no less than seven times.
“After the Fall” is fascinating reading for both nonbelievers and the faithful, as DeMartino manages to speak of his recovery and the spiritual journey he experienced without proselytizing about his deeply personal relationship with faith. Nor does he shy away from the darker moments of the accident’s aftermath, both with its physical challenges and the emotional ups and downs that accompanied the prolonged convalescence.
Battling depression, chronic and debilitating pain and a lost sense of purpose in his life, DeMartino struggled to come to terms with the decision that loomed over each day after the accident — whether or not to keep his leg. Being allowed the choice was almost more agonizing than if he had woken up from the fall with his leg already amputated. The road to amputation, he writes, was like contemplating a particularly challenging climbing route, knowing that even though the crux of the climb may be out of sight, there still needs to be a decision about what hardware will be required when it is reached. “Cracks, holes, fissures, dents … you have to figure out how to use those weaknesses to your advantage to get past difficult spots.”
Though he found the prognosis for his leg devastating, he grew determined to find a way to remain active if he made the choice to have his leg removed. To sit back and spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair was not an option; he planned to keep climbing, so he was adamant about finding a way.
Playing a Winning Game
DeMartino’s path back to reclaiming his life is nothing short of inspiring, and his determination is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, no matter the catalyst. He took the cards he was so cruelly dealt and seems to have played a winning game, scoring some record-breaking climbs as an amputee, as well as devoting himself to the mentorship of others who find themselves in a similar situation. He is surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends, with two children who see him as a role model worth emulating. “After the Fall,” for him, has very much been an uphill climb, but the view from the top has been spectacular.