The Kid Bounces Back

A boy's death gives snowboarder Chris Klug a second chance at life and the Olympics.

After the fourteen-year-old's parents spoke, the victim's father addressed the court. He didn't believe the accused's claim that the shooting was an accident. The boy might not have meant to pull the trigger, he said, but he'd pointed a loaded gun at his son's head. His ex-wife was still too upset to attend the sentencing, he added, so he and the boy's maternal grandmother were going to have to do the talking.

"Me and my family have been going through a pretty hard time, too," he said. "And my son will never come back. And there's not a day that goes by that, you know, any little thing can trigger memories and really upset me and stuff.

"And my daughter's having a real hard time. His mother is having a very hard time...He'll be missed forever. And when [this older boy] gets to go on with his life, it will still be in my heart every day that my son is not there forever."

Michael Brands
Chris Klug gets encouragement from his girlfriend, Missy, as hospital staffers prep him for his transplant.
Warren Klug
Chris Klug gets encouragement from his girlfriend, Missy, as hospital staffers prep him for his transplant.

The man tried to continue but choked on his words and had to pause before he could go on. "He looked just like me. He sounded just like me, same sense of humor, and I can never get him back."

The victim's grandmother was next. She was haunted by the image of her grandson lying on the bloodstained couch. The families of the two boys had spoken briefly about a week after the shooting, but there'd been no contact since. She felt that someone needed to speak on behalf of her daughter who, she told the court, "is having a real, real hard time accepting all of this."

"She would like to have justice done, but in the process, no harm to the [killer], you know, just some help through the community. It's a great loss. I can't even handle the situation...My daughter and my grandkids are hurting."

The judge ordered the youth to stand at the lectern. "Your irresponsible behavior, your criminal behavior, has destroyed the lives of two families...Frankly, I don't think that you're remorseful at all. And that's consistent with what your behavior has been like throughout your early life."

The judge turned to the youth's parents. "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I have to say that while I believe that you folks bear some of the responsibility because he didn't have the life that a lot of kids in the community have had and deserve...I also am aware that there are other children who come from broken homes, or the support system isn't there, and their conduct isn't as irresponsible or as criminal as was your son's conduct in this case."

Turning back to the youth, the judge said his case "screams for the maximum sentence. If I could give you a longer sentence, I would." But all he could hand out was two years in a Division of Youth corrections facility, and one more unusual requirement based on a request from the victim's father, who wanted the slayer to be reminded once a year of what he'd done and whom he'd hurt.

"I will make it a condition of this sentence that you do write a letter of apology," the judge said and, nodding toward the slain boy's father, added, "and that on every Father's Day, you send him a Father's Day card."

On the September morning when the teen shooter was being lectured by the judge to act as if he had a conscience or face his wrath at sentencing two weeks later, Chris Klug stood at the top of a snowfield on Mt. Hood, Oregon, basking in the sun. His view of the Cascade Mountains was uninterrupted for hundreds of miles. Looking south, he could see the jutting volcanic peaks that guarded his old hometown of Bend: Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Jefferson, and even the brooding presence of Black Butte, which as a teen he'd run up and down to get in shape for football.

So far, the comeback trail had been smooth, if arduous. Much as his mother had predicted, Chris had turned getting out of the hospital into a sporting event. He quickly set the record for laps around the transplant-floor hallways, often parading around with an IV pole in the company of family and friends who'd driven or flown in.

With the surgery over, Chris had finally talked about his disease with the media. There was no more need for secrecy, and, in fact, he wanted to use his status to publicize the need for organ donors. He'd had to wait nearly two and a half months after reaching the top of the list for his status level; he knew there were people on waiting lists who were dying every day because there weren't enough donors. His e-mail address was soon flooded with responses, many from people who were either suffering from PSC or had a loved one who was. He answered every e-mail and letter, moved in particular by those who said they had found hope for themselves in his story.

Still, he knew that the higher the podium, the more people he'd be able to reach. His hero, Lance Armstrong, who'd battled back from testicular cancer to win the Tour de France twice, had used his fame to raise money and awareness for cancer programs. Chris realized that the best way to do the same for organ-donor programs was at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, on a slope at the Park City ski resort.

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