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The Kid Bounces Back

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

The world and all its possibilities were his to explore again. The only downside was thinking about the boy who'd been killed by a gun...the reason he was still alive. He'd heard that the donor had not always had the benefit of parental guidance. He thought about his "brother" Jason, a friend whom his parents had taken into their home, and how he'd done so well as a result of their love and expectations for him, especially compared to Jason's brother, Josh, who'd wound up in jail. Chris's mom might drive him crazy sometimes with her exuberance, but she knew what to say at the right moments, and he loved her. And then there was his dad, who'd been there at all his races as a youth, helping him achieve his dreams -- and when things looked darkest regarding his liver, made him believe that God would not abandon him. They both had taught him to be a participant in his own destiny.

The other boy had not had the same opportunities. Still, when it mattered, the boy's family, strangers to him, had given him the most important gift anyone ever had. But he couldn't find the words that seemed adequate to express his gratitude. In September,his father had penned his own two-page letter:

Dear Family, There are times in our lives when paths cross, totally unplanned and unexpectedly. Sudden events change things forever, or something happens that brings a drawn-out story to conclusion. I believe firmly that God does not cause bad things to happen to us, but of course, we all go through bad things at times, and it seems that God allows it. We do not know why...I also believe that God does step into our lives at times.I am the father of a boy who received a liver transplant in late July. The transplant saved his life...

 
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.

Even as we traveled to Denver from our home in the mountains, we were well aware that the gift our son was about to receive had come through great loss to another family...In your grief and sorrow, please know that the other side of your tragedy is that there are parents like me who are grateful for your gift...Thank you so much. You helped save our son's life.

A Grateful -- Very Grateful -- Dad

Chris had searched a thousand times for the right words, finally realizing he would just have to wait until they came to him.

In early September, Fabrocini and his doctors had pronounced him fit and ready for the early U.S. team snowboard camp on Mt. Hood. He was already behind; normally, by the end of summer, he would have had the opportunity to get used to his new equipment, making sure everything was ready for the start of the season. But he had been unable to do that.

He'd showed up at Mt. Hood a day earlier than the rest of the team was scheduled to report. The U.S. ski team members were there, but he knew only a few of them peripherally. He wanted to take his first few runs without anyone watching him.

Driving up to the ski area, he'd experienced a mixture of eagerness and fear. He was excited to get back on snow and take that next step on his comeback trail. But he was also afraid. What if I fall? Would he literally burst open at the purple seam that stretched across his abdomen? Might some organ tear loose or twist inside his gut? There'd been a scary moment earlier in his rehabilitation, when he'd slipped reaching for something in the shower and crashed to the floor. He'd lain there until he was convinced that everything was okay, but that fall was nothing compared to the wrenching he might endure crashing at high speed.

So he took it easy on that first day, free-riding to get a feel for the snow and staying out of the racing gates. He was certainly a little rusty, but he completed ten runs and felt strong. The old joy of setting an edge and allowing the board to carry him through an arcing turn was there from the first moment. He ended the day showing off his "shark bite" for the U.S. ski team. He was, after all, a snowboarder.

The snowboard team showed up the next day, and Chris jealously watched as his teammates ran the gates while he free-rode. This went on for about a week until he couldn't stand it any longer; when the way was clear, he dropped in on the course from outside. He was feeling the rhythm of the gates again, getting a little cocky, perhaps, when he approached a fourth gate for a toe-side turn and felt the back of the board sketch out on him. The movement suddenly stretched his abdominal area, and he panicked, fearing injury. He overreacted and fell backward -- though "ejected" might be a more apt description -- hitting his head and flipping over, twisting and turning as he struck the snow.

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