Vail Valley’s Meghan Buchanan overcomes horrendous injury to climb Seven Summits

Aerospace engineer Meghan Buchanan inspired Vail Christian High School students with her presentation about overcoming a horrendous snowboard injury to climb several of the world's Seven Summits.

EDWARDS — If you’re Meghan Buchanan, it really is rocket science – at least some of it.

Buchanan wove stories about the $100 million aircraft project she’s leading for a major aerospace company, around tales of how she overcame horrendous snowboard injuries to become one of the world’s elite athletes.

In her talk, “Five Pillars of Grit,” Buchanan mesmerized and inspired Vail Christian High School students.

“You will fail, you may even break, but this is not failure! Learn, grow and rise. Each time higher than the last,” Buchanan said.

Besides her work as an aerospace engineer, she has vowed to climb the Seven Summits before her 50th birthday, which is still a ways away. So far, she has summited Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and Elbrus. Her 2019 goal is to summit Denali, and in 2020 to summit Everest.

And to get that $100 million aircraft project off the ground, and to do it for $50 million, “We are fortunate to have had Meghan share her story of perseverance and tenacity with our students. After her presentation, the engineering class asked if Meghan would share her wisdom about being successful in pursuing a career. She is such an inspiration to all of us,” said Steve O’Neil, Vail Christian’s Head of School.

Her toughest climb

The Vail Valley is home to countless elite climbers and a few who’ve completed the Seven Summits, but none have rebounded from the kind of injury Buchanan suffered.

She was laughing, smiling and loving the powder on Windows in Vail’s Sunup Bowl on Feb. 6, 2011, an epic day. Everything changed in an instant. Buchanan blasted through the deep powder when she hit a fallen tree, buried under about four feet of new snow.

She broke the head off her left femur bone, twisting it so badly that the muscle and everything attached to it tore loose. It was so bad she was bleeding out.

There was so much snow that Super Bowl Sunday that they had trouble finding her. Eventually, they followed the screams. The ski patrollers who rescued said they’d never heard those kinds of screams come out of a human.

Dr. Rick Cunningham, the surgeon with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics who put her hack together, said he hadn’t seen injuries that severe in 10 years. To the untrained eye, it looked like ice cream falling off the cone, or in Buchanan’s case the bone, he said.

Not so long ago, someone with an injury like that might have been facing life in a wheelchair, Cunningham said.

Cunningham inserted a 14-inch rod into Buchanan’s femur, along with all the hardware to hold it in place. Along with every thing else she was suffering, Buchanan’s body tried to reject it, leaving her in constant pain. The femur is the biggest bone in your body, and the rod needed to stay there at least a year for it to heal.

After a year and a half, bone marrow was growing back and that pain was gone.

“After 19 months of constant chronic debilitating pain, it was finally gone,” she said. “The life I once knew came rushing back.”

A month later, she could finally climb stairs unassisted. Four months after that, with her team’s approval, she left for Nepal with Love Hope Strength, a Colorado non-profit – to hike to Everest base camp (17,500 feet) and Kala Patthar (18,500 feet), a 14-day trek.

It wasn’t just a trek; it was a pilgrimage.

“I was able to spread my father’s ashes at base camp, which made the almost two years of pain, loss and fight worth every moment,” she said.

Read more about Meghan’s story in this previous Vail Daily article.

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