Grand Junction woman survives hang-gliding collision, leads active life |

Grand Junction woman survives hang-gliding collision, leads active life

Sharon Sullivan
Grand Junction CO, Colorado
Sharon Sullivan/Grand Junction Free PressUschi Hall at home in Grand Junction. Hall suffered a hang-gliding accident 14 years ago.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado – When Grand Junction, Colorado Uschi Hall’s hang-glider crashed into the side of a mountain in Austria, she fortunately hit a patch of trees ” which she attributes to saving her life.

However, she broke her spinal cord in the collision, leaving her a paraplegic.

Uschi, 43, ruefully refers to the accident as “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Hang-gliding happens also to be the link that brought Uschi (rhymes with sushi) together with her husband, Bill Hall.

At 25, Hall was a college exchange student from Germany, studying in Madison, Wis.

At the end of her college internship, she and two friends bought a beat-up old Suburban and a map and drove to the West Coast.

On the way back, they stopped in Telluride to see a hang-gliding competition.

There, Uschi met Bill, who was working as an emergency medical technician at the hang-gliding event. It was “love at first sight,” said Uschi, who ended up staying a week before heading back east and to her flight home to Germany.

For a year, the couple wrote letters and visited each other. After graduating with an engineering degree, Uschi returned to Telluride, where she spent a year living with Bill.

Then she became homesick, returned to Germany, and the two resumed a long-distance relationship.

Bill traveled to Germany to propose marriage in August 1994.

Uschi met Bill at the airport on a Thursday, and on Sunday she went hang-gliding in Austria, 20 miles from her home.

Both were hang-gliding enthusiasts, but Bill’s glider hadn’t yet arrived from the United States, so Uschi glided while Bill hung out at the bottom of the mountain.

Before the day was over, Uschi was transported to a nearby hospital’s intensive care unit.

“I had a mid-air collision with a paraglider,” Uschi said. “I lost control of my glider. I knew pretty quickly it was serious. I couldn’t feel my legs.”

A helicopter evacuated Uschi to a hospital where doctors performed surgery to stabilize and tried to lesson compression on her spinal column.

Bill stayed with her at the hospital, and then for several more months at the rehabilitation clinic.

“In intensive care he proposed to me,” Uschi said. “Being an EMT (and a medical student) he knew exactly what it meant with my injury. He was aware of my prognosis right away.”

For three days, the two wrote notes to each other while Uschi breathed through a tube.

“It was an eye opener ” someone who loves me no matter what.”

After two weeks in the hospital, Uschi moved to a rehabilitation center where, for weeks and then months, Uschi hoped she would gain movement in her legs. But nothing changed.

Uschi and Bill married in May 1995 and moved back to Colorado.

In 2002, the couple moved to Grand Junction with their two children, Katie, 11, and Max, 8.

Despite life in a wheelchair, Uschi remains active.

She learned to ski in Breckenridge and Crested Butte, and then later at Powderhorn Resort with Colorado Discover Ability ” an adaptive sports program for disabled people. Uschi served on the Colorado Discover Ability board for five years, and she still volunteers with the organization.

“There’s a lot of adaptive equipment to give opportunities to enjoy your life and the place you live in,” Uschi said. “We all love the outdoors. It’s important that our children could grow up in the outdoors.”

Still, it’s been a challenge finding outdoor wilderness activities they can do as a family, Bill said. They can no longer climb mountains, but they do ski and bicycle as a family.

Uschi sits on a three-wheeler, using hand cranks to propel the bike.

“It just takes longer to do anything. We have to take that into account,” Bill said. But “we like to do it and we’ll find a way to do it no matter what.”

Uschi and Bill, an emergency room doctor for St. Mary’s Hospital, built a house off South Camp Road, designed with low counters, wide doorways and an opening under the sink where Uschi can park her wheelchair.

Life is good, despite Uschi’s chronic pain. She experiences what doctors call “phantom pain.” Her toes hurt, she feels tingling needles in her legs and shooting pains up and down her legs.

She’s tried medication, acupuncture, self-hypnosis and breathing techniques. She attended a pain management clinic. None of that has really helped, she said.

“I believe staying active and involved has helped me the most to deal with it,” Uschi said. “The hardest part is getting up in the morning. (But) with two kids you have to get up. The activity takes my mind off the pain.”

Uschi teaches art heritage classes in the schools, and she serves on the Mesa County Medical Society Alliance ” an auxiliary to the Mesa County Medical Society. The group promotes nonviolent conflict solutions by providing SAFE ” Stop America’s Violence Everywhere ” lesson plans for Grand Valley second-grade teachers.

About once a year the family travels to Germany to visit Uschi’s family. Katie and Max have learned to speak a little German.

Uschi also satisfies her yearnings for German culture by meeting with other German-born women who live in the valley.

“We meet once a month to speak German,” Uschi said. “It’s very traditional in Germany to have coffee and cake (a Kaffeeklatsch) in the afternoon ” so that’s what we do.”

The hang-gliding accident occurred 14 years ago. Uschi said she doesn’t think about what could have been.

“You can’t look back. You can’t hold onto what you think you lost,” she said. “It changed my life, and I try and look forward and make the best of it.”

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