Unlucky Strike

Gary Rudd got zapped one day, and life has never been the same.

Slowly, Garry began tackling household projects. He built an awning above the back door, dug a trench in the front yard, crafted a $1,300 black walnut table for the Denver clinic. He even eased behind the wheel of a car, first using a motorized grocery cart, then a golf cart and eventually his pickup. He can't drive at night, navigate hairpin curves or reach 50 mph, but he can handle routes that he has memorized.

He no longer takes pain pills. He no longer relies on his cane. In May, Garry completed his final cognitive exercises at the head injury center. After two years, doctors pronounced him ready.

"That was a good day for me," he says. "I'm at maximum medical improvement. I'm as good as I'm going to get. Now it's up to me to practice, practice, practice."

John Johnston
Electric company: After being hit by lightning, Garry Rudd found it difficult to work.
John Johnston
Electric company: After being hit by lightning, Garry Rudd found it difficult to work.

His memory remains spotty. His hip still hurts. He has trouble processing information. And he continues to make mistakes. Several weeks ago, he forgot to turn off a drill press in his shop, grabbed the spinning drill bit and severely cut his hand. The injury "hurt like hell" and embarrassed him to no end, but Garry swallowed his frustration, returned to his shop, attached a warning light to the drill, and resumed work.

When lightning strikes, no place is completely safe. People have been hit while holding on to refrigerator doors in their kitchens, talking on telephones, reaching from their cars toward ATMs, working in garages, speeding on Jet Skis, burrowing in caves, hiding beneath boulders, standing on rubber mats. The best way to avoid becoming a statistic, authorities say, is to be prepared -- and to steer clear of thunderstorms altogether.

As a general rule, if you can hear thunder, you're a potential target. A storm doesn't have to be overhead before lighting strikes; thunderbolts have been known to travel more than ten miles before hitting the ground. Even after a thunderstorm has passed overhead, the danger is not over.

And despite the common misconception, lightning can -- and does -- strike in the same place twice.

Nearly two years have passed since Garry stood in that open field and reached for his pitchfork. He thinks about it every day. He still isn't able to easily participate in some of the activities he loves, such as deer hunting and welding. He is no longer the independent man he had once been.

Garry could spend his days lamenting his losses, but he won't. His injuries have forced him to view his life in ways he never before considered. He sees every misfortune that he has encountered, no matter how painful, as preparation for the life he now must lead. In spite of everything that has happened, he has survived. And there's only one way to look at that, he says: It's a blessing.

Besides, after all these years, Garry believes his luck is finally changing. Each Wednesday he travels to a market in Buena Vista and buys three one-dollar lottery tickets: one for himself, one for Linda and one for Colleen. Then he returns home and places them on his refrigerator door.

"Odds are odds," he says. "If I can hit lightning, then I can sure hit that goddamn lottery."

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