Doss’ brave new world
AVON – Sometimes, in his dreams he rides his bicycle again. Other times, he’s on a soccer field, but he can’t kick the ball. The he wakes up to learn to live his life again after it changed completely on Oct. 5, 2004. “I dream a lot about riding my bike and skiing,” said Doss Malone, a former American Airlines pilot who became paralyzed from the waist down after a bicycle accident outside Minturn last year. “The dream is so precise, I’m shifting gears and I’m standing up on the climbs.”But Malone, 45, an avid outdoorsman who lives in Wildridge, is once again tackling life the way he did before the accident. Even the bike he crashed on hangs in his garage walls.”She’s my baby, ” Malone said. “We spent so much time together.”Last March, just five months after his accident, Malone got back to the slopes on a sit ski. In June, he started riding a hand bike. These days he’s skiing Vail’s Back Bowls and he just got engaged to Pam Zuckerman, his girlfriend of four years.”Through his pure determination he’s managed to work himself back into condition to be able to bike and ski,” said Neil Masters, a physical therapist from Avon and a friend of Malone’s of six years. “Usually, it takes people three to four years to be where he is at now.”The injury was severe,” Masters added. “The prognosis for that type of injury is no recovery for the use of his legs. For someone as athletic as Doss is, it’s a significant change.”Getting hurtMalone doesn’t remember the accident. All he can remember is waking up in a Denver hospital two days later, he said.What he knows is that he was approaching Minturn when he went off the road after the last hairpin turn at the bottom of Battle Mountain Pass and fell about 50 feet down the embankment.”It was something that happened quickly and caught me off guard,” said Malone, who believes a car ran him off the road.
Malone punctured a lung, which caused a lot of internal bleeding. He broke every rib on his right side and fractured the T9 vertebrae, the injury that paralyzed him.”The first month after the accident, I could barely do anything I was in so much pain because of my broken ribs,” said Malone, who spent three months at Craig Hospital in Denver doing rehabilitation.His daughter Kali, 11, said she remembers when her dad was on a ventilator.”I remember seeing him and he moved his hand and made and ‘I’ and the shape of a heart and then, ‘you’,” said Kali, who lives with her mother in Denver. “It made me so sad.”For Malone, there was the pain in the body and the one no one could see. For a man used to fly a jet to Paris, Buenos Aires and Hawaii several times a month, used to bike all summer and ski 60 days in the season, getting up from bed some days became a challenge.”Before the accident, I tried to do as much as I could,” he said. “I rode my bike, went to yoga, hiked and skied. Everything I did was my identity. I was obsessed with my activities like a lot of people up here. Then, it was hard just lying on a bed. You are stuck with yourself.”The hardest part is the feelings of isolation and powerlessness, Malone said. “You’re not the master of the universe anymore. I used to get up and do whatever I wanted to do, everything was on autopilot in my life,” he said. “I used to have this 100-square-mile playground and then your whole universe shrinks. You spend your whole life perfecting everything, your hobbies, and your job and you have to start over.”I adjust by not dwelling on it,” he added. “I keep myself moving. I look forward to going out with Pam, going to the gym and I do a lot of dreaming.” Staying independentMalone lives with his fiancé in a four-level house in Wildridge, which was remodeled to fit his wheelchair. There’s a small elevator from the garage to the main level and then there’s a lift for the stairs that takes him to his bedroom. “You go from being totally independent to being dependent on other people,” Malone said. “Like when I go skiing, I need to find people to help me get in and out of my rig.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is to communicate better,” he added. “You have to be able to communicate to people what you need. It makes you realize it isn’t all about flying planes, skiing or riding a bike. It gives you more focus on your relationships.”Zuckerman also had a huge revelation, she said.”At first, I was really scared, but part of me always knew that I love him very much and I wanted to be by his side,” said Zuckerman, 41, who works for Double Diamond ski shop in Vail. “I’ve been trying hard to think about the things he can do. It’s been an unbelievable learning experience.”The hardest part for Zuckerman was when Malone came home from the hospital.”He didn’t know how to maneuver in the house,” she said. “Now, he’s extremely independent.”To Masters, Malone has always been an inspiration. “He’s never looked back,” Masters said. “Every single day it’s an effort for him and yet he doesn’t complain.”Malone credits his fiancé for most of his recovery.”I wouldn’t be like this if it wasn’t for her,” he said. “She’s been there for me. When you go through something like this you’re so raw and bare.”Malone proposed to Zuckerman on Dec. 18, the day of his birthday. She said yes. They still don’t know when or where the wedding will be.Healing seasonKali Malone has done some healing herself in the past year.”For me it was really hard to get through it,” said Kali, during a recent visit to her father in Wildridge. “I wrote a story about the first day I woke up after the accident. It made me realize how important everything is and how fast it can be taken away from you.”
Malone still wants to fly, ride his bike, ski, maybe start a new business and have another child.”Hopefully I can get back on an airplane – there are some retro fitted,” he said. “I know I’m going to do that. That’s the next tier up. And, hopefully, I can learn to ski well to teach it. I feel I need to give back.”He also looks forward to the results of stem cell research, which he said is coming along.”I can imagine five years from now there will have some kind of treatment for this,” he said confidently. “I will walk again and good part of it will depend on how well I take care of myself right now.”But Malone said he’s convinced he’ll have to go to another country to get the treatment done.”Realistically, it’s not going to happen in the United States because of all the bureaucracy,” he added.In the meantime, Masters said people with injuries similar can thrive and have good life styles. In fact, last Sunday Malone skied the Back Bowls in Vail again, something he was dreaming of doing later in the season.”It was so great to be on chair 5 again,” he said of one of the chairlifts that services the Back Bowls. This week, he plans to visit China Bowl.Despite the changes in his body, Malone said he feels the same person he was two years ago. But there’s moderation in him now and more patience, he added.”As a pilot you like to be in control. It’s tough to have faith that everything will work out,” he said. “Now, I have faith that things work out and I can be a little more relaxed.”Vail, Colorado