Fracture Friday: Tom and Kristi’s matching shoulder slings
How two college athletes spent their Christmas break
In 2011, 10 Concordia College track and field athletes utilized their Christmas break to depart the desolate plains of northwest Minnesota to the bright bowls of Big Sky, Montana. The resort had hosted my family’s annual ski trips from the time I was a boy, and I was eager to join my brother, the lead organizer, and his friends.
My brother ended our first day ripping down a mogul run like Johnny Moseley, when he was forced to bake his dinner roll (Moseley’s signature trick for those sad souls deprived of owning the 2002 gold medalist’s video game) across a miscalculated catwalk. Unable to completely clear the flat, Tom’s skis neatly settled on the traverse as his body immediately was ejected and proceeded to tumble head over heels “like a ragdoll in a washing machine” down the other side.
The inside of his lip was detached below his gums as a result of his shattered goggles sliding down his face upon impact, a wound requiring 13 stitches. In a strangely taken post-fall photo — an odd moment my shocked and possibly slightly concussed brother seemingly obliged for — most of the damages remain concealed.
He also dislocated his shoulder. Considering he had accomplished that several times before — including while flinging a bottle cap across a room — that injury was a given.
My frugal brother eschewed pleas from the ski patrols to be taken in an ambulance to Bozeman. At the base of the hill, a doctor deftly put his shoulder back in place — a prescient protocol foreshadowing an impending drama.
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Most normal people would have called it quits for the week and resigned themselves to daily aprés starting at first chair. Not my brother. He was waiting in line the next day for the first chair, which he took up to the top of Lone Peak with the rest of us ragamuffins.
The summit of the foreboding 11,000-foot face presents zero easy routes, and most are “slip-and-see-ya” type slopes. Wrapped in a shoulder sling, my brother shepherded us over to Marx, a relatively mogul-free double-black. Stopping at the top to admire the views, I remember being positioned behind a group member named Kristi. It escapes my memory as to why, but for some reason, she took the first step-turn down in the group.
She proceeded — to everyone’s horror — to catch an edge, skid backward, and start tumbling down Marx. Suddenly, my brother burst out from the frozen group, pointed both tips down-mountain and went full gas in hot pursuit. Undoubtedly, though unjustifiably, the overly empathetic team captain felt at least partially responsible for bringing his teammate up the challenging run in spite of her lack of experience.
Once at her side, Tom immediately comforted Kristi, who had dislocated her shoulder in the fall. Providence paid off, as he used the technique he had learned the previous day for himself to help Kristi pop it back in relatively painlessly.
There aren’t a lot of people who combine the athletic ability and compassion of my brother, and it took a fracture to marry the two unique qualities. A month later, he set three indoor track school records in three straight meets. Racing a mile, 3k and 5k in a 15-day span would destroy a lot of athletes, but those times stood untouched for a decade, even by his determined younger brother who transferred to the school the following season.
Since then, he’s popped his shoulder back in a few more times.
More importantly, he’s never said “no” to any line, no matter how steep — the mark of a truly ‘full’ recovery.
Tell us your story
Injuries are a common topic in mountain communities. We tend to push ourselves to the point of having them. If you have an on-mountain or sports-related injury, we want you to share the story of your injury, recovery and redemption (and if you’re currently injured, we want to hear your plans for the last two).
To read more Fracture Friday stories and to share yours, visit VailDaily.com/FractureFridays. And be sure to check the paper every Friday for the latest Fracture Friday.