Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Skier Overcomes Paralysis

This story isn't about snowboarding, and it isn't even about skiing either though it may seem to be on first glance. It is about inspiration and the strength of the human will, and it brought a tear to my eye, so I will share it with you.

Sipapu Employee Baffles Doctors:
Once Paralyzed, Now Skiing

Last week, Sipapu ski shop employee and Las Trampas native Frank Lopez made one extraordinary trip down the mountain at Sipapu. His legs were shaky, and his skis didn’t go very fast. However, this amazing journey had nothing do with his form or speed: Frank was skiing under his own power after countless doctors told him he’d never walk again.

On January 2, 2007, Frank’s day started like any other: he went to his job in Boston and during his lunch hour, he completed his daily workout at the gym. However, when he returned to work, things began to go very wrong.

Just 20 minutes after his workout, Frank felt a wrenching pain in his spine. Shortly thereafter, he began experiencing memory loss. His hands and legs started convulsing, and he was quickly losing feeling in his limbs.

“I knew something was wrong,” Frank said. “I thought it was a stroke, so I left the office and went straight to the subway.”

By the time he reached his subway stop, Frank couldn’t walk and couldn’t feel anything below his waist. With tremendous effort, Frank managed to get a cab and dialed 9-1-1.

By 6 p.m. that evening – less than six hours after his workout – Frank was paralyzed from the neck down.

Over the next three days, hospital physicians ordered a battery of tests to try and diagnose this bizarre paralysis. On January 5 – Frank’s 36th birthday – his doctor said he likely had a blood clot in his spinal cord, which could only be treated by placing a shunt in his spine.

The shunt would cause permanent paralysis.

Doing nothing would mean death, most likely within days.

“Paralysis or death: those were my two options that morning,” Frank said.
Frank agreed to have surgery. He took his last communion. He signed the Do Not Resuscitate form. Then he went to sleep, hoping for a miracle.

Eight hours later, he awoke and learned the good news: he did not have a blood clot in his spine. However, the physicians still had no explanation for his paralysis… nor did they think he would ever walk again.

Frank Lopez had always been an athlete. Growing up, he participated in every sport available in his small Las Trampas community, especially skiing. He was introduced to the sport as a third grader when some friends invited him to try it at Sipapu.

“My parents did not ski, so they didn’t want me to go,” Frank said. “My friends began writing letters to my mom, and she was eventually convinced to let me try it.”

The third grader fell in love with the sport immediately and spent many, many winters on the slopes at Sipapu; eventually he became a rental shop employee and ski school instructor.

“Being an instructor was fascinating,” he said. “I loved being able to instruct kids that wanted to learn,” he said. “I really found the most fulfillment in teaching the most challenging kids. Plus, the more I broke it down for them, the better I became.”

Now the man who had fallen in love with skiing – and sharing that love with others – was suddenly a quadriplegic, and no one could tell him why. In spite of his uncertain prognosis, Frank never gave up.

“I never believed I would be paralyzed for the rest of my life, not for one minute,” he said. “For days, I sat there in the hospital and tried to move my body.”

And finally, a small miracle happened: less than a week after his paralysis, Frank moved his left toe.

Doctors quickly ended the tests to try and diagnose Frank’s problem and, instead, focused their efforts on rehabilitation. After months of exhaustive work, Frank returned to Las Trampas using just a cane to aid his steps.

Once he returned home, Frank continued to do extraordinary things. He rallied his community (where his family was one of the 12 original families who established Las Trampas) to restore the historic Church of San Jose de Garcia. His body also continued to heal: he’s even regained some feeling in his legs – a sensation that doctors said he would never experience again.

His next goal was to ski again at Sipapu.

“I always loved skiing, and I promised myself I would feel that again,” he said. “I knew it would take some work, but it was important to me to do it.”

So, this season, he returned to work in the Sipapu ski shop, helping guests sign up for lessons or rent skis and snowboards. While he worked, he kept thinking about his goal: he wanted to ski on January 5, 2010 – his 39th birthday, and exactly three years to the day that doctors said he would never walk again. But when the big day arrived, Frank nearly talked himself out of it.

“I thought of a million excuses why I wasn’t going to ski,” Frank admits. “I was terrified. I was afraid I’d hurt myself. I feared I wouldn’t be able to feel it again.
Bruce Bolander, the son of Sipapu founders Lloyd and Olive Bolander, and his wife, Winonah, knew of Frank’s goal, and they weren’t going to see him give up.

“I went up to Frank that morning and said, we’re going on the slopes in 30 minutes!” Bruce said.
The Bolanders’ encouragement is just what Frank needed.
Most people are supportive, but Bruce and Winonah actually got in there and helped me achieve my goal,” Frank said. “They really cared about it as much as I did.”

So on the morning of January 5th, Frank stepped into his skis and stood in the lift line “shaking like a leaf.” But with Bruce’s aid, he started skiing.
“I took to it like a duck to water,” he said. “I knew what to do – it just took a lot of effort to make it happen. My legs were trembling from years of atrophy, but I was mostly in control.”

“You could just see the excitement in his eyes,” Bruce said. “His mental memory of skiing is phenomenal.”

When he finished his run and returned to the base area, his elation was obvious to everyone.

“I was doing these wide, long turns. I felt the whoosh of the skis. I felt the breeze,” he said. “And when I finished, all I could think of was three words: I DID IT!”

Physicians continue to have more questions than answers to Frank’s mysterious paralysis. And while it’s painfully difficult to not know why he was paralyzed – and how or if he will ever completely recover – Frank continues to make big goals for himself. His next endeavor is to bike the Boston Marathon.
Until then, he’s happy to be back at Sipapu.

“Lots of people told me I’d never walk again,” he said. “I took it two steps further – I decided I would not only walk again, but I’d ski, too. If someone says you can’t do something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. There’s always hope.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Helmets for Ski Slopes - The Debate Continues

Helmets for Snowboarders and Skiers - The Debate Continues

by Lauren Traub Teton
for SnowboardSecrets.com

A federal report estimates 7,700 head injuries could be prevented every year if skiers and snowboarders wore helmets.

The NY Times ran an article January 2, 2010 about how prevalent helmets have become on the slopes of snow resorts. Vail Resorts, Aspen Skiing Company, and Intrawest all have helmet policies for employees and recommend that their guests wear them. Stewart Levy, a Denver neurosurgeon says that wearing a helmet could reduce reduce the chance of sustaining a brain injury by 50 to 80%.

The flip side of the coin is voiced by Jasper "Jake" Shealy, a professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology who says that in high speed crashes helmet use does not make a difference. Shealy who has studied head injuries among skiers for over 30 years also says regarding the ski slope death of Natasha Richardson "an unhelmeted head actually has more time and distance to decelerate when the snow is soft — as was the case in Ms. Richardson’s fall — and the fall is slow, because it will penetrate further into the snow than a helmeted head." He still believes skiers and snowboarders should wear helmets, but believes they should not be oversold on the safety a helmet will provide.

We at SnowboardSecrets.com spoke to Dr. Robert Williams of Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care who has been studying ski helmet use for years.

He says "I agree with Dr. Levy's impression that a helmet would have been expected to make a crucial difference in the Richardson tragedy. Although Professor Shealy's comments are well meaning, they may muddy the waters concerning the use of helmets. The medical literature is very clear that helmets are an effective method to decrease the chance of sustaining a traumatic brain injury while riding. Helmets are similar to seat belts in that they need to be worn every time a rider is on the slopes. There are no downsides whatsoever to wearing a helmet. I cannot imagine a practical instance in which a rider sustains a fall and would have been better off without a helmet.

It is also important to remember that resorts have changed dramatically in just the past few years. Much riding now takes place in terrain parks and gladed areas where the high speeds mentioned in the Times article are much less common. We published an article in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine that measured the speed of expert skiers and riders in the glades and on rails. In 85-90% of measurements, the speed of even expert riders was less than 15 mph. This is a speed where helmets can be expected to be highly effective. Since there are numerous hazards (trees, rocks, metal rails, machine packed snow) in these areas, wearing a helmet makes even more sense.

Riding in control is the first message to preventing head injuries, but it is essential to stress that wearing a helmet is always a good idea."

Dr. Williams, an avid skier and snowboarder, has worked with the University of Vermont for the past 6 years to study helmet use, and to develop a non-coercive approach to increasing their use that has proven to be very effective. The program is called PHAT (Protect Head at All Times).
See details at www.fletcherallen.org/PHAT.


Snowboarders - protect your wrists!

Beginner snowboarders have a FOUR TIMES greater chance of sustaining a wrist injury. We at Flexmeters.com hear SO MANY broken wrist stories from customers who were NOT wearing Flexmeter wrist guards when they had their accidents, but always do now!

The wrist guard designed by a doctor. For snowboard, skateboard, ice skating, bmx, horseback riding, Trikke riding, and more! Gloves with wrist guards built-in too!


Monday, January 4, 2010

First Stop Of The Winter Dew Tour - Breck 2009

First Stop Of The Winter Dew Tour 2009
Breckenridge, CO

by Jackie Williams for SnowboardSecrets.com

Breckenridge, Colorado - Sunday, December 20th marked the end of the first of three stops of the 2nd annual Winter Dew Tour. It was an amazing weekend with skiers and snowboarders from around the globe swarming in for the competitions.

And they did not disappoint! There were a lot of firsts at this year’s Winter Dew Tour:

  • Danny Davis claims the biggest score ever in the history of the Winter Dew Tour with a 96.50
  • Jamie Anderson’s 92.00 run in the snowboard slopestyle finals earns her the highest score earned a in the women’s event
  • Tyler Flanagan, 16 years old, earned his first ever victory in a pro contest in the men’s snowboard slopestyle final

Highlights from the snowboarding finals? You’d be screaming along with the crowds as Danny Davis threw it out hard on some insane double flips, 1080s and tail grabs on his first run in the Men’s Superpipe Finals. I felt sorry for everyone who went after him! He didn’t even have to do a thing for his second run – it was in the bag – but he still performed. Judges were looking for some major air, rotations and grabs.

Most of the finalists had solid runs, but seemed to play it safe. Riders like Iouri Podlachikov, JJ Thomas, and Mason Aguirre, though, hyped everyone up when they came screaming out to the pipe with huge airs right out the gate. The end of Mason’s run was awesome when he came too far out of the pipe and crashed into the fence – and spectators! That was great. I think it surprised him, too.

As for the Slopestyle Finals, the men’s competition ended with a trio of first-time podium finishers. “It feels amazing; it’s like a dream come true. I came out only wanting to get top ten, and I’m stoked that I came in first,” said Flanagan. “I’m chasing the Dew Cup. I’m trying to get that Dew Cup now!”

Anderson won the Women’s Slopestyle Finals by throwing a backside 180, a switchback 540, and a backside tailslide on the Nike 6.0 rainbow rail. Coming in second place was Sarka Panc, who landed variations of backside 180s, and third place went to Jenny Jones with a 67.50. “I was really nervous but I feel great to have won this first stop of the Winter Dew Tour season,” said Anderson. “I’m glad I pulled it together and landed what I needed to win the first run.”

So there you have it! The four-day competition ended with 32,000 people visiting Breckenridge to see their favorite athlete compete. The conditions were good, the sun was out, the crowds were hyped and the moose were roaming…

Snowboard Wrist Protection at Flexmeters.com. Sports wrist guards Designed by a doctor and sponsor of this article.

RESULTS for Winter Dew Tour Breckenridge 2009



Danny Davis



Iouri Podlachikov



JJ Thomas



Mason Aguirre



Steve Fisher



Zachary Black



Ilkka-Eemeli Laari



Fredrik Austbo



Roger Kleivdal



Janne Korpi



Matt Ladley



Scotty Lago




Tyler Flanagan



Sage Kotsenburg



Eric Willett



Torstein Horgmo



Halldór Helgason



Brandon Reis



Charles Guldemond



Sam Hulbert



Mikkel Bang



Scotty Lago



Heikki Sorsa



Stef Zeestraten




Jamie Anderson



Sarka Panc



Jenny Jones



Spencer O'Brien



Janna Meyen-Weatherby



Shelly Gotlieb




Queralt Castellet



Sarah Conrad



Kjersti Østgaard Buaas



Kelly Marren



Elena Hight



Kaitlyn Farrington


The Winter Dew Tour continues with two more events across the US:

Wendy’s Invitational @ Snowbasin, Ogden, Utah (Jan. 15-17, 2010)

Toyota Championship @ Mount Snow Resort, West Dover, Vermont (Feb. 4-7, 2010)