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The Bounce-Back Kid

Professional snowboarder Chris Klug carves his way back to the top of the mountain.

Warren could hear his son crying. He told him that he wasn't alone as long as he had faith. "I don't think God would have brought you through all he has just to abandon you now."

The pep talk got Chris back on the road to Salt Lake City, where he checked in with the team. Alone with his thoughts and his secret, he decided that his dad was right, he didn't have to lie down and die. He could fight this thing with God's help.

He slept surprisingly well that night. In the morning, he went through the tests with ease. A couple of hours later, he was racing back toward Colorado, the music cranked. The bounce-back kid was ready to ride again.

 
Brian Stauffer
 
Chris as a toddler.
Chris as a toddler.

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Five months later, Chris woke up feeling like someone had just stabbed him in the stomach. It was a hot searing pain that made him gasp for air. He looked at the clock. It was 2 a.m.

He was staying at the home of ex-Bronco Croel, who'd been introduced to him by Fab. They'd become good friends, and when the 1999-00 season ended, Chris and Missy had joined Mike and his wife, Cassie, for a surfing vacation in Southern California.

The season had been the best one ever. Chris's knee had given him fits at times, even keeping him out of a couple of early races. But he'd come back to take third in the World Cup giant slalom at Whistler, Canada. Then he'd won the Grand Prix at Breckenridge and, with it, a $10,000 check.

After the New Year, he'd gone to Berchtesgaden, Germany, for the first World Cup races. It was to be a parallel giant slalom, head-to-head competition, his favorite -- and the snowboard race that would be the event at the next Olympics. In a PGS, the riders take turns riding the blue course and riding the red course, in case there is an appreciable difference in speed between the two courses.

Chris was in the red course for the first run, Sweden's Steven Copp in the blue. They were running neck and neck until Chris made a mistake on the flats coming into the finish line and was behind by .52 of a second.

When he got back to the top of the course, Coach Wegelin bellowed over a two-way radio, "Are you a stamp collector or a snowboarder?"

Chris got the point, and he knew that if he made a clean, aggressive run, he could beat Copp. Chris got a fast start out of the gate and, taking chances, cut the corner on the last three gates, battling not to lose control. He knew that he had made up some ground when he crossed the finish line. But how much? He looked over at the scoreboard; it read Klug .01 Winner. He'd won his first World Cup since knee surgery by one one-hundredth of a second!

He'd followed that win with a third place at the PGS in Ischgl, Austria. Then a third place in the Super-G at the Goodwill Games back in the States. And finally wrapped up the season with the U.S. national title.

Still, the PSC had become more of a factor during that season. He'd gotten sick a few times during the tour and had to return home for ERCPs. Instead of every six months, the doctors had said that they now wanted to see him every two. Chris had looked at his father and Missy. They knew what it meant: His liver was failing.

He wasn't feeling very well in April, when the season ended. His appetite was off, and he seemed to always have a low-grade fever, something the doctors had warned him about as a sign that the antibiotics weren't doing enough. Still, he loved to surf, and when Croel invited him, he'd jumped at the chance. They'd surfed for six to eight hours a day. It was peaceful, bobbing on the waves, waiting for the next ride -- a chance for Chris to reflect and feel closer to God. He loved life so much and realized that his was at a crucial point. Whether he lived or died might be decided in the next few months. So he stayed out as long as he could every day, knowing there might not be many more opportunities.

How he managed to do so much during the day, Missy didn't know. At night he had no appetite and burned with fever. She was worried, but she had to go back to work in Aspen, where she taught special-education classes. If he feels good enough to do all that, he can't be that sick, she convinced herself.

The night after Missy left, Chris woke up with the stabbing pain. He hadn't wanted to admit that he was getting sicker. He was supposed to go surf with Croel in Hawaii the following week. But the pain told him he wasn't going anywhere. For the first time since Payton's death, he was scared again. He knew he needed a new liver.

Chris flew to Denver, where Warren and Missy met him at Everson's office. He was put under for another ERCP. They knew it was bad, but they didn't expect what the physician told them while Chris was still sleeping.

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