The Bounce-Back Kid
Chris Klug kissed his girlfriend, Missy, for luck and tromped to the starting gate of the Park City, Utah, World Cup snowboard parallel giant slalom. He snapped his red racing boots into the bindings of his long, yellow Burton board, adjusted the goggles beneath his helmet, and peered down the slope.
Small clouds scudded overhead, but this first Sunday in March promised to turn into a warm one -- and a great day for racing, with the town of Park City already decked out in flags and signs hailing it as one of the venues for the 2002 Winter Olympics, now less than a year away. Somewhere below, his parents, Warren and Kathy, were ringing a cowbell in anticipation of his first run. All his life, he'd been able to count on them for support, and today was no different -- although he hoped they'd stop ringing the darn thing after he left the gate. "Remember, Chris, you love the starting gate," was the last thing Kathy had told him that morning. The starting gate, and all the possibilities.
The top sixteen racers on the World Cup snowboard circuit had drawn bib numbers earlier that morning to determine who would go first; another 56 racers drew their numbers after that. As one of the points leaders, Chris had been in the first lot...and he'd drawn number 16. He wasn't pleased with the number: The more racers who went before him, the more rutted the course, and the greater the chance for a mistake. But it was a small obstacle, all things considered.
Four days of surfing in Hawaii the week before had done the Aspen resident a lot of good, relaxing him after a grueling World Cup tour through Europe and Japan. He was tanned and rested, his mind at peace, and he was ready to attack the gates below him.
Colorado Rockies vs. San Francisco Giants
TicketsMon., Sep. 4, 1:10pm
Colorado Rockies vs. San Diego Padres
TicketsFri., Sep. 15, 6:40pm
Colorado Rockies vs. Miami Marlins
TicketsMon., Sep. 25, 6:40pm
Colorado Rockies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
TicketsFri., Sep. 29, 6:10pm
Denver Outlaws / Major League Lacrosse All Star Game
TicketsSat., Dec. 29, 6:00pm
Life was beautiful; he was just happy he was still around to enjoy it. His survival had been in question the past summer, when it looked like he might succumb to a mysterious disease destroying his liver before he could get a transplant.
Day after day he'd grown weaker, his marvelous conditioning fading as he waited for a call from University Hospital in Denver telling him that a donor liver had been located. That someone else had died so I could live. He'd taken courage in his father's belief that God would not have brought him through so much adversity in his life only to leave his side, abandoning Chris in his darkest hour. But when days became months, even faith could not conquer doubts that God had plans for him that did not involve a storybook ending.
Then came the day in July when his fate crossed that of a thirteen-year-old boy. A day when a bullet ended one life and saved another. For months after Chris got his new liver, he'd wrestled with that terrible irony, trying to find the words to express his gratitude to a family he didn't know for the gift.
That gift had allowed him to celebrate his 28th birthday in November, the birthday some family members had thought he would never see. That gift had set him back on course for the 2002 Winter Olympics, where, on this very Park City slope, he hoped to conquer his disappointment over a sixth-place finish at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Then he'd acknowledge the gift from the podium -- a gold medal around his neck and "The Star-Spangled Banner" playing in the background -- by championing the cause of organ-donor programs, much as two-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong had championed cancer awareness following his own life-and-death struggle.
Chris's mother believed that all the struggles he'd faced since birth had a purpose: to prepare him for the ordeal with his liver. Beneath the skintight gray and black racing suit he was wearing, his body bore a half-dozen testimonials to his father's nickname for him, the Bounce-Back Kid. Thin white scars that ran up his heels and on either side of his right knee. And one long scar -- half of a Mercedes symbol or a peace sign, depending on your perspective -- across his abdomen, still fresh and purple. A scar he jokingly referred to as "a shark bite."
The Park City race in 2000, which had taken place before he knew he was going to need a new liver, had been a disaster. He and other top racers had fallen, victims of a poorly prepared course. Now Chris gripped the sides of the starting gate, sliding his board back and forth, preparing to propel himself forward. He wanted this win. Nine runs, the first a time trial to get into the finals; then, if all went according to plan, eight head-to-head, side-by-side heats with his competition. It would be his way of saying that he was all the way back, the man to beat when they all met again here next year.
He wasn't about to take it easy now. That was not his style. His whole life had been lived on the edge. There was nothing left to fear.
Eighteen years earlier, Kathy Klug had stood beside Chris's hospital bed as the ten-year-old struggled to fill his lungs with air. She was holding his hand as he slept, his fingers curled around hers as they had when he was an infant. She inhaled deeply and exhaled, willing him to follow her example. Breathe in, she thought, breathe out. She would have stood there breathing for him all night.
Warren Klug had met Kathy in 1967 while they were college students in suburban Chicago. In the spring of 1968, Warren moved to Colorado to attend the University of Denver's hotel and restaurant management program, and he asked Kathy to come and live with him. She insisted on marriage first -- and won.
Things were tough financially: Warren worked long hours, waiting tables in Denver to pay his tuition and help support them while Kathy worked part-time and attended school. Money became even tighter when she got pregnant and quit work. They'd agreed that she would stay home while their children were young, determined to do whatever it took -- sacrifice careers, do without -- to be there for their kids. They had no medical insurance, but the members of their church, St. Mark's Episcopal, covered the costs when their first child, Jim, was born in 1969. St. Mark's pastor told the grateful couple that they could repay the debt when they were called upon to help someone else in need. They would know when the time came, he said.
The little family moved up to Vail, where Warren managed a ski lodge. In 1972, Kathy was pregnant again. The local clinic didn't deliver babies, so she went to Denver's Rose Medical Center to deliver. Doctors there thought that the baby was overdue, and they induced labor on November 18. But they were wrong: Christopher Jefferies Klug was born premature.
The infant was whisked off to intensive care, and nobody told Kathy that anything was really wrong until the next morning, when a young neonatologist entered the room as she was writing birth announcements. "I'd hold off on that," he said. He explained that the lining of Chris's lungs was not fully developed and, as a result, the preemie had pneumonia and was in serious trouble. But not everyone had such a poor bedside manner. Kathy was crying in the nursery when a nurse walked over to where Chris lay in an incubator. The nurse passed her hands over his body and said, "This baby has a strong aura."
"Is that good?" Kathy asked.
"Oh, yeah," the nurse replied. "He's going to make it."
To improve Chris's chances of survival, the doctors sent him to Children's Hospital. Despite his struggles, he'd let his parents know he wasn't going anywhere. When they put their hands into the rubber gloves attached to the inside of the incubator so that he could hold their fingers, his grip was strong. Three weeks after he was born, he was able to go home.
Still, Chris's early health problems had left him with severe asthma, and he frequently was taken to the emergency room, where he was kept until his breathing stabilized. It wasn't just the asthma that was frightening; sometimes the cure looked worse. Pediatrician Peter Boehm occasionally had to give shots directly to the boy's heart to relieve the constriction. The first time he saw the needle and was told what had to happen, Chris cried. But the relief was so instantaneous that during later attacks, he looked forward to the needle.
The worst attack yet sent Chris to the hospital on his tenth birthday, when doctors couldn't get his blood to oxygenate. With their son's life hanging in the balance, Warren and Kathy split shifts so that one parent would always be with Chris and the other could be back home with Jim and Hillary, who'd been born just a month before.
One evening, as Chris slept, Warren looked at his son lying in bed, fighting for his life, and wondered, How could this be what God has in mind for this wonderful kid?
Whatever divine plan there was, Chris's destiny wasn't to die in that hospital bed.
Boehm and his partner finally got a handle on the problem, but only by installing an arterial line in Chris's wrist to pump oxygen directly into his bloodstream. It was a painful procedure, but Chris was able to go home a week later. He gave Boehm a poem thanking him for "taking away the fear."
Chris's parents believed that the best way to teach their children was by example, so they were active in their church and in the community. The Klugs also expected their children to set goals and aim high. When confronted with difficulties, the kids were to ask themselves, "What are my choices?" -- and then accept responsibility for their decisions. They were to see themselves as participants, not bystanders, in their own destinies. The kids were expected to work hard in school, respect others and be home when told.
Chris didn't let his rough beginning slow him down. He and his brother launched themselves into every sports and outdoor activity. They certainly grew up in the right places for it: first Vail, and then Bend, Oregon, where the family had moved in 1976, when Jim was seven and Chris was four.
Warren ran an inn on the road leading to the Mt. Bachelor ski area, surrounded by millions of acres of forest and jagged volcanic peaks. The boys hiked, camped, and rode their bikes and skateboards, practicing tricks on the quarter-pipe ramp that they helped their father build.
Chris was naturally gifted. Agile. Strong. Fearless. He insisted on being perfect at everything he did, practicing over and over. With his asthma, he worked twice as hard as anybody else to be better.
He worked especially hard at skiing. Chris loved to race and did well enough, but in the fourth grade, he found what he really wanted to do on snow.
He had seen some newcomers on the slopes of Mt. Bachelor, cruising through the powder on what looked like a fat water ski with a leash attached to the front. Chris thought it looked like great fun. And in December 1983, the first Burton Performer snowboard came to a sports shop in Bend. The board was made of wood, with plastic straps for bindings and a "skag" (a sort of rudder) on the base for turning, but lacking metal edges. Chris begged his dad to rent him one.
With his rented board, Chris headed straight for the highest, most difficult slope on Mt. Bachelor. He was sure he'd have no difficulty, but he discovered that he couldn't traverse steep slopes without metal edges. He kept falling. Frustrated, he pointed the thing straight down the hill and learned to fly. The board gave him a sense of freedom and connection with the snow's surface that he'd never felt on skis. As soon as he got home, he began pleading with his parents to get him a Burton Performer for Christmas.
His mother thought the contraption looked dangerous, so she was flabbergasted when "Santa" put one under the tree on Christmas morning. "Santa" avoided her glare whenever the subject came up.
Mt. Bachelor was one of the first resorts in the country to allow snowboards. But in those early years, only Chris and five of his buddies were "shredding" the slopes.
Other resorts were not so hospitable, as Chris found out in early 1984 when the family went on a vacation to Sun Valley, Idaho. In the lift line, Chris was told by the lift operator that he couldn't get on with his new board. Kathy told Chris to go back to the condo where they were staying and get his skis; she was still against the board and hoped he'd give it up.
Chris refused. "I'll go find a hill," he suggested. "They don't own all the mountains, Mom."
Before his mother could reply, Warren sided with young adventurer. "Let him go find a hill of his own," his dad said. "What could it hurt?" Chris smiled and took off.
Later, from the lift, Warren and Kathy recognized their eleven-year-old son -- they could see his red pants -- a half-mile away, laboring up a mountain through the waist-deep snow. At first, they were gripped by fear -- what if there was an avalanche? But then they saw him reach the top, strap on his board and take off through the pristine powder, carving a long, graceful turn like an author signing his book.
When he reached the bottom, Chris unstrapped his board and walked back to the path he'd created on his first climb. To his parents' amazement, he started back up, willing his body to plow through the snow for another ride. Kathy felt a whole new appreciation for the depth of her son's spirit. Never again would she argue against the snowboard.
"Do you drink a lot?" the woman on the telephone asked.
The question caught Chris off guard. He knew that the public's perception of boarders was one of pot-smoking, beer-swilling party animals in baggy clothes. In some cases, it wasn't far from the truth. Plenty smoked pot and drank themselves stupid. There were even racers on the tour who smoked between every run. And the after-race party often started before the race was over.
For Chris, the rebel roots of snowboard racing were part of the fun; it was a laid-back group, especially compared to those in the cutthroat world of ski racing. He didn't care if anyone else smoked, but it wasn't for him. A couple of beers was about his limit, and then only on a rare occasion. He was one of those guys who loved life sober and loved getting paid to race. He had a quick, bright smile for his friends, of which he had many, and a goofy laugh that sounded like a loon on a misty lake.
It was 1994, and a lot had changed in the ten years since he'd cut up that hillside at Sun Valley. Chris was 6' 2" and 210 pounds of lean muscle. His asthma rarely bothered him anymore, though he still carried his inhaler everywhere. And he made his living as a professional snowboard racer with sponsors that included Burton boards, Bolle sunglasses and the Aspen Skiing Company, the big cheese in the town where his family had moved in 1992 and his father managed an upscale hotel/condominium.
Snowboard racing had changed, too. Since Chris's first Burton Performer, the equipment had undergone a dramatic metamorphosis. The leash was gone, as was the metal skag. The new "snowboards" had metal edges and Petex bottoms, like skis. Chris's Burton racing board was nearly as tall as he was and custom-made to his specifications; the old Sorel snowboots that he'd adjusted by wrapping duct tape around them had been replaced with racing boots as sophisticated and almost as rigid as regular ski boots.
He'd started racing the year after he got his first board. He'd gone on to become one of the top junior racers in the country for several years. Through it all, he'd had the unwavering support of his parents. His father had shuttled him to races all over Colorado and the Pacific Northwest -- even to the East Coast. Standing beside the courses, often in miserable weather conditions, he'd cheered his son on.
Chris had certainly never lacked confidence. When asked by Snowboarder magazine what he'd be doing with his winnings, which totaled a couple hundred dollars, the fifteen-year-old replied, "I intend to put it in a trust fund so that I can maintain my amateur status and be in the Olympics."
The interviewer smiled. "But, Chris, snowboarding isn't an Olympic sport."
"No," Chris conceded. "But it will be...and I'm going to be there."
There were few sports at which Chris didn't excel. Like his brother, Jim, who was an All-State football player and later went on to Dartmouth on a football scholarship, Chris loved football. In junior high school, he was determined to be a star quarterback. One evening, he lit up the front yard like a stadium, dragging lamps from the living room with every extension cord he could find. When his mother asked what he was doing, he explained that he needed more practice throwing the football but had run out of daylight.
Chris had a poster of his idol, Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, hanging on his wall. He'd read an article about how diligently Payton prepared, mentally and physically. The story noted that the future Hall of Famer's off-season workouts included repeatedly running up a steep hill near his home. The next thing Chris's parents knew, their son was running up a butte to prepare himself for football.
In high school, Chris was a football star who thought about an NFL career when he wasn't dreaming about Olympic snowboarding. He also played varsity tennis, which was how he met his girlfriend, Melissa "Missy" April, who competed for a rival school.
Although Chris spent a lot of time with Missy, he'd always had many friends. His friends would do anything for him and knew they could expect the same loyalty from him. One of them was his "brother," Jason. They'd become friends on the the football field in junior high. Jason had never met his real father, and his mother and stepfather were drug addicts. The family lived on food stamps, so once a month there'd be full stomachs for Jason and his little brother, Josh. Otherwise, they went to school hungry and wearing dirty clothes. No one cared how they did in, or after, school.
Chris started bringing Jason home every night for dinner. Soon his friend was doing his laundry at the Klug house and sitting in for help with his homework.
When Jason was about thirteen and his brother was nine, the Oregon Department of Social Services removed them from their mother's home. The Klugs took the boys in. They knew this was the time their former minister had talked about -- time to repay an old debt. As soon as the boys settled in, they blossomed. The change in Josh was particularly dramatic. Instead of failing his classes, he became a solid B student. Bright and likable, he was a kid with real possibilities.
So it was a blow when social services placed Josh back with his birth mother after about eight months with the Klugs. He was soon in trouble at school again and, later, with the law. Jason stayed with the Klugs through high school. Big and strong, he was the lineman who protected Chris, the quarterback. The other kids considered him their brother, and Warren and Kathy referred to him as their adopted son.
Chris graduated from high school in June 1991 with a 3.9 grade point average, but was still unsure of what he wanted to do. Should he play college football or pursue a sport that was just beginning to take off with larger purses and more sponsorships? He decided to attend Deerfield Academy, a prestigious prep school in Massachusetts, where he could play another year of high school football and race on the World Cup circuit, most of which was held in Europe, while he made up his mind. Chris did well that fall semester, but he soon realized that he was not the second coming of John Elway. He could hardly wait for the snowboard racing season.
The headmaster, however, was not so keen on him taking the necessary time off from his studies to race in Europe. "This snowboarding is going nowhere," he told Chris and his parents.
When Chris announced that he'd be leaving the school to pursue his racing career, the headmaster turned to the Klugs for support. They backed their son. "You're making a serious mistake," the headmaster warned. But the Klugs were already on their way out the door.
Soon afterward, Chris turned professional, winning one of his first races at Hunter Mountain, New York. He thought it was going to be win after win after that, but it took him until 1993 to get back on the podium, placing third in the Super-G at the U.S. Open. He put the rest of the snowboard racing world on notice when he took first in the giant slalom at the International Snowboard Federation (ISF) World Series in Val d'Isere, France.
By the fall of 1994, the only thing slowing him down was the surgery he'd had the year before to remove painful bone spurs from his heels. They were still hurting him, but he was looking forward to the season when he went into the clinic in Aspen for a routine physical. He was thinking about changing his insurance coverage and thought he'd breeze through the qualifying checkup. He was a perfect physical specimen; he could "hammer" -- bike or run as hard as possible -- up Buttermilk Mountain without getting winded. Then he might do it again for kicks.
For years, he and some of the other boarders had been talking about their sport needing to clean up its image if they wanted to be taken as seriously as ski racers. It was important for attracting sponsors and getting endorsements. Chris dreamed of the day when snowboard events would become part of the Winter Olympics and he would make that first team representing his country.
So he was surprised when he got a call from the clinician. She said he had abnormally high liver enzymes, which could, she added, mean something serious. That was when she asked if he drank a lot. After all, he was a snowboarder.
Chris asked to have his blood checked by his family doctor. When the enzyme numbers came back high again, the doctor sent him to see Dr. Gerald Tomasso, a specialist in gastroenterology in Glenwood Springs.Warren and Missy went with him.
They all agreed on the way to Glenwood Springs that this liver-enzyme deal couldn't be much of anything. Chris didn't have any symptoms.
Tomasso explained that high liver-enzyme numbers are an indication that the liver isn't functioning properly. If the heart is the body's pumphouse for circulating blood, the liver can be thought of as its filtration system. The organ regulates the body's metabolism, including energy levels and cholesterol. It stores sugar and takes toxic chemicals -- alcohol and drugs among them -- and changes them into non-toxic substances. The liver also produces bile, which is carried by bile ducts that lace throughout the organ into the small intestine, where the fluid is necessary for nutrient and vitamin absorption in digestion.
Heavy drinking, drug abuse and viral infections -- such as bloodborne hepatitis viruses -- can damage the liver and lead to cirrhosis or even liver cancer. Cirrhosis is a scarring of the liver in which the architecture of the organ is distorted, eventually to the point where it can no longer perform its function. Without a functioning liver, death is certain.
Tomasso quickly ruled out the usual suspects for liver disease. This was going to take some detective work, he said. In the meantime, Chris should just go on with his life.
They left Tomasso's office confident that they'd been right. There was nothing to worry about. Chris couldn't be sick.
A year later, Chris was still more worried about his chronic heel problems than about anything concerning his liver.
By the end of the previous spring season, his feet had been killing him. He'd won the Canadian Open giant slalom in Silver Star, Canada, but it wasn't fun being in such pain. Doctors said he needed more surgery on one foot. So he'd decided to take the 1995-96 season off and give his foot a chance to "heel" properly, as he punned. He wanted to do it before the stakes became more serious the following year.
The International Olympic Committee had at last announced that two snowboard events -- the half-pipe "trick" riding and a giant slalom race -- would be part of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. If Chris took off a year to rest and rehabilitate his feet, he'd have an entire year to get back in form for the push to make the U.S. team during the 1997-98 season leading up to the Olympics.
He was preparing for surgery when Dr. Tomasso called and asked him to come to Glenwood Springs for a new test. Chris wasn't alarmed: For more than a year, Tomasso had been on a "fishing expedition," poking and prodding, running tests to get at what was causing the continued high enzyme levels. He'd even performed a biopsy, looking for liver cancer. So far, the tests had revealed no cause.
Again, Warren and Missy accompanied Chris to Tomasso's office, where the doctor said he wanted to conduct what was called an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-Pancreatography (ERCP). He explained that Chris would be sedated, and then a fiber-optic laparoscope, a sort of tiny camera, would be run down his throat and through his stomach to the small intestines so that Tomasso could look at the bile ducts leading to the liver. Tomasso didn't say what he thought he might find.
After Chris woke up, Tomasso gave them the bad news. He'd found evidence of inflammation and scarring in the bile ducts. He wasn't sure, but he thought Chris might have a rare disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis, or PSC for short.
"It's unusual, but not unheard of," Tomasso said. No one seemed to know what caused it, and there was no known cure. The problem was that after a period of time, the scarring would plug the ducts, and the bile would pool up in the liver, creating more damage. The result was that Chris would someday need a liver transplant.
Chris let out an incredulous laugh.
"You sure you got the right guy?" he asked. "I feel like a million bucks...no symptoms."
Tomasso wasn't smiling. His diagnosis wasn't a sure thing, but he wanted Chris to go see the real expert on liver disease, a Dr. Gregory Everson at University Hospital.
In the meantime, Chris went ahead with his heel surgery. He was still on crutches that winter when he, his father and Missy met with Everson, the medical director of the hospital's liver-disease program, one of the top such programs in the world. Everson and Dr. John Vierling had created it in the 1980s, developing a team approach to dealing with liver disease that included drug researchers and transplant surgeons.
University Hospital had been an early pioneer in liver transplants, back before the development of drugs that would keep the body from rejecting donated organs. As a result, long-term survivors had been few, and liver transplants had been stopped in the mid-1970s. They were reinstated in 1988 by Dr. Igal Kam and Dr. Fritz Karrer. With their skill and the advent of new anti-rejection drugs, University Hospital soon had one of the best records in the country for long-term survival of transplant patients.
But Everson wasn't really talking about transplants now. He said he wanted to perform another ERCP. Only this time, if he found what he suspected he would, his team would use the laparoscope to dilate some of the bile ducts by inflating a tiny balloon on its tip, a sort of a "roto-rooter" for the liver.
It was not going to be a comfortable experience, he warned.
If Tomasso's hunch was right, the procedure would release bile that was pooling up in Chris's liver behind the scarred ducts. Chris woke up vomiting a foul green slime. The stuff kept coming up for hours, leaving him weak and bewildered. Everson came in and delivered the bad news. Tomasso was right: Chris had PSC.
The disease affects about three in every 100,000 people, he said, mostly young men. There is no cure. They could control the infections caused by the pooled bile with antibiotics, dilute his bile with a drug made of bear bile to allow it to get through his ducts easier, and perform ERCPs every six to eight months. But the ERCPs would do less and less as time went by, he warned, until finally they would do no good at all, at which point Chris would need a transplant.
When? No one knew that either, he said. The disease had a mind of its own. It might be three years, it could be twenty, even thirty years down the road.
Missy and the Klugs were stunned.
Missy heard Everson's three-year prediction and burst into tears. But Warren heard twenty years, which gave him hope.
Chris accepted that he had a life-threatening disease. But he'd heard twenty years, too. That would be long after his racing career was over. Long after he'd won an Olympic medal.
Two years later, Chris was poised for the 1997-98 Olympic push as the top American rider. But to make the Olympic team, riders had to qualify by racing in three Grand Prix events held in the United States.
The first Grand Prix was held in December at Sugarloaf Mountain in Vermont. Chris placed second to Canadian Jasey Jay Anderson, always one of his main competitors on the tour, but the important thing was being the top American finisher. He knew that if he placed in the top two or three at the next Grand Prix, which was scheduled for later in the month at his old stamping grounds, Mt. Bachelor, he would sew up an Olympic berth.
He tuned up with some World Cup races in Europe. He placed second in the giant slalom at the ISF World Series in Laax, Switzerland, then followed that with a first-place win in an FIS giant slalom in Grachen, Switzerland.
"This is a great win for me," Klug told the Aspen Times after that one. "My goal for this year is to be on the podium representing the United States in the giant slalom at the Olympics in Nagano. I expect to be there and to medal. That has been my motivation."
When Chris arrived in Bend for the second Grand Prix, he was feted as the hometown hero. On the slope, he laid it on the line, coming in first place after the first run. The weather had deteriorated, knocking some of the best racers out of contention. Snow was coming down hard, and he could hardly see beyond the first few gates. Yet Chris shot out of the gate, scorching the mountain as the day's fastest.
With two first-place finishes, he was the first snowboarder named to the U.S. Olympic snowboard team. He'd proved his doubters wrong. Snowboarding was going somewhere: It was going to the Olympics, and he was going along for the ride.
Over the next few years, Chris pursued that dream. The only downer was his "secret" disease. There still were no outward signs of the PSC; the worst part was undergoing the ERCPs every six months. But after a bout of vomiting, he'd be good as new the next day -- inhaling pizzas whole, hammering up mountains or charging down slopes. It was more like the flu than a life-threatening illness.
He kept his secret from everyone but his family and closest friends. Like most other people, he'd always thought of liver disease as something that affected alcoholics and drug addicts. He knew better now, but he still didn't want to have to deal with people's perceptions of liver disease. He was All-American, and he wanted his sport taken seriously. He saw himself as an ambassador for snowboarding, handing out business cards that read: Chris Klug, professional snowboarder.
Then came the ERCP in the spring of 1997. From the videos they were shown after each ninety-minute procedure, Chris , Warren and Missy knew that the doctors were able to open up less each time. This time, Everson came into the room as Chris was still waking up.
"I want to put Chris on the transplant list now," Everson said. "Low priority, but on the list." The doctor held up his hand. "This is just a precaution and so that he has a history of being on the list."
Chris got angry. "Are you nuts? Aren't you jumping the gun a little? I'm fine."
Everson nodded. "Yes, you're fine. I just want to play it safe."
"But the Olympics...," Chris said.
"Don't worry," the doctor said. "We're going to get you to the Olympics."
And indeed, Chris arrived in Japan in early February 1998, believing that he had an excellent chance to take the gold medal. The race, a giant slalom, suited him, with wider turns and a longer run than the slalom that favored both his technical ability and his powerful body.
"In the early beginnings of the sport, a lot of people thought snowboarding had no place in the Olympics," Chris told USA Today. "They said the sport was all about soul, backcountry riding and freedom, that it wasn't about Olympic medals, fame and fortune. But I've never felt that way...The Olympics is the ultimate in sports. It'll put us on the map."
Most of the family was there: his parents, Jim and Hillary, plus Missy and several friends. They cheered wildly during the opening ceremonies when the U.S. team appeared in their cowboy hats and red-white-and-blue jackets, and suddenly there was Chris's face up on the enormous television screen set up for the fans. He had a huge smile, the same one he'd had that Christmas fifteen years earlier when Santa gave him his first snowboard.
The morning of the race, it was sunny on Mount Yakebitai, where the snowboard competitions would be held. A cold front had canceled the first ski races on another mountain, which made the snowboarders the first Olympians to compete that year before the media. This was the day Chris believed his sport would finally be taken seriously.
He was ready to win. He was relaxed during his training runs, coming over to his family and friends for hugs and to give them pep talks. He looked around with wonder and couldn't believe the size of the crowd, which seemed as pumped up as his own fans.
By the end of the first run, the top ten racers were all within a second of the lead. Canadian Jasey Jay Anderson was in first. Chris was tied for second with Thomas Krueger of Germany. This is perfect, he thought. He preferred to be on the attack rather than trying to hold others off.
Then everything went to hell. For some reason, the race organizers delayed the second run for two hours. In that time, the front that had canceled the ski races moved in, bringing with it snow, fog and a bitter wind. The first five racers went down the course but had such difficulty that the race was halted for fifteen minutes. It resumed again, though conditions had only marginally improved. Many of the top racers, including Anderson, fell or made mistakes that knocked them out of medal contention. The man to beat was Ross Rebagliati, a Canadian who'd been in tenth place after the initial run and was the first racer on the course after the event resumed.
When Chris came to the starting gate, the weather was even worse. He peered through his goggles down the slalom course into a swirling cloud of fog and snow. Somewhere below were 10,000 delirious fans.
As at the Bend qualifier, he had a difficult time seeing farther than the first five gates. Still, he reveled in the moment. He was there...at the Olympics, dude...about to drop the hammer...and he wanted to laugh like a loon. He could hardly believe his childhood dream was coming true, and he was in position to win the gold medal. In less than two minutes, he would determine whether he would become the first gold-medal winner ever in a snowboarding event.
There was no question of taking it easy. They were all too tightly bunched. It wasn't his style, anyway. He was damned if he was going to let this get away from him because he was too timid. Better to fall than not leave it all out on the hill.
Chris flew out of the starting gate. His body angulated at an impossible degree as he went around each gate, his hip just six inches above the snow, trusting the edge of his board and his strength to hold the line.
He moved with grace and with joy down the course, brushing as close to each gate as he dared, the material popping like firecrackers as he thwacked it going by. At the halfway point, his time was on pace for the gold. Just a few more gates, a few more ticks of the clock.
Then disaster struck. His arm caught one of the gates just enough to fling him up and spin him off his line. Oh, shit, he thought, but gathered himself and kept going.
Down at the bottom, Chris's entourage had just about exploded when the half split showed him winning. Their eyes went back to the huge television screen, trying to will him through the last few gates to his dream. Then they saw the mistake. It was only a small one, but they knew such things could cost him the race. And sure enough, when he got to the bottom, the scoreboard showed that he was in sixth place, and there he'd remain.
Missy began to cry, an image caught by the television cameras and broadcast around the world. Chris, too, was stunned. He'd been so close. Then he looked up. Fans from dozens of countries were going crazy in the stands, and there, in the middle of the crowd, was his brother, Jim, swirling a huge American flag back and forth. Oh, man, he thought when he realized what the fans were up to, they're doing the wave. He raised his arms above his head and smiled. "I just want to thank the Japanese people for this experience," he told the television cameras that had rushed to capture the moment. "This is great!"
Chris was disappointed with his finish, but it wasn't long before that laugh was ringing through the streets of Nagano as he enjoyed the rest of the event with the people he loved. The sting he couldn't get over, though, was when the International Olympic Committee announced that Rebagliati had tested positive for marijuana after the race and would lose his medal.
It was a slap in the face. After all they'd been doing to legitimize the sport as something other than a playground for pot-heads and part-time athletes, Rebagliati had literally pissed it all away. Eventually, the Olympic committee had to back down. Rebagliati said he must have accidentally inhaled some pot at a party he'd attended weeks before the Olympics; and no written rule said that marijuana was one of the drugs athletes would be tested for -- though such a rule was soon added.
But Chris knew what would happen. The jokes on the late-night talk shows, the commentaries in the newspapers. What did they expect when the IOC invited snowboarders to the Olympics?
There was only one thing left to do: He was going back to the Olympics in four years. To Utah and the hill at Park City, he told his family and his girlfriend, "this time to get my medal."
Descending in his truck from Soldier Summit Pass through the barren Uinta mountains between Price and Spanish Fork, Utah, Chris cruised through the twists and turns, rocking out to thrash-metal CDs. It was November 2, 1999, and he was on his way to Salt Lake City for physical testing with the U.S. snowboard team.
Chris hadn't let the disappointment of his Olympic finish set him back for long. He finished the season as the North American giant slalom champion at the races in Mt. Snow, Vermont. Then he'd gone back to Aspen, where he was named grand marshal for the annual Fourth of July parade, riding in an old convertible and wearing his U.S. Olympic team suit.
In the fall of 1998, he'd reported to training camp in Breckenridge, where, on his birthday, he'd torn up his knee in a freak accident. Chris was just wrapping up gymnastics training -- to improve his balance and strength -- when his right foot got caught between two mats and his knee had been suddenly, painfully, bent backward.
Missy and his parents had gone to pick him up. By the time they arrived, his knee was swollen to the size of a watermelon. He'd already called Dr. Tom Pevny, a young orthopedic surgeon in Aspen, because "he knows what I have to do on this knee." Pevny had assured him that he'd put him back together "good as new."
However, the damage was more severe than imagined. Chris had completely torn three of the four major ligaments that support the joint. A friend who watched some of the surgery came back out and reported that the way the doctors were talking, there was some doubt that Chris would ever be a world-class athlete again. He told Missy, "The only way I can think to describe it is a turkey bone after Thanksgiving...a bare bone. Nothing's attached."
Pevny was optimistic around Chris. Sure, he'd be back and training next year, he told his patient. He kept to himself his fears that along with the tears, there was a strong possibility of severe nerve damage that might not only end Chris's racing career, but could also prevent him from ever walking normally again.
Chris had to stay off the leg entirely for eight weeks. Unable to exercise, he lost a lot of muscle mass, especially in his leg, which he described as "a toothpick." He had only a 10 percent range of motion, and when he finally was allowed to begin rehabilitation, it took more than a week before he had the flexibility to turn the pedals of a stationary bike one complete revolution.
Pevny turned him over to physical therapist Bill Fabrocini, a friend of Chris's from the Aspen Club, an athletic facility. Fabrocini had a national reputation as a physical therapist and had brought basketball player David Robinson and former Bronco linebacker Mike Croel back from injuries. But Chris's was worse, and Fabrocini shared Pevny's private concerns.
That marked the beginning of months of "torture sessions" as Fabrocini put Chris through a rigorous program to regain his range of motion, then his balance and strength in the leg. Twice a day, every day, for two to three hours at a time, Chris and Fab worked out.
There were times, Chris would confess to Missy, that he just wanted to quit. Times when he began to doubt himself. He was worried that his sponsors would drop him. After all, they paid him to race and win, not learn to walk again.
But the sponsors didn't give up on Chris, and nobody else would let him give up, either. Not Fab, who pushed, cajoled and challenged him. Not Missy, who emptied his urine jars at night when he was laid up for two months and held him when he was down. Not his parents.
One day Kathy found her son crying. He thought his career was finished. It was so unlike him to feel sorry for himself. "Why do you want to go back, Chris?" she asked. "Ask yourself, 'What do I love about racing?'"
Chris thought about it for a moment. "I love the starting gate, Mom," he replied. He said he loved the possibilities a race day represented.
Well, then, she said, he had two options. Cry, give up, and find something new to love. Or he could do everything he could to get back on his board: There was a medal to win in Salt Lake City in less than four years.
The reminder was all he needed. By the end of spring 1999, he was carving his first turns at Aspen. By that summer, as he prepared for the racing season ahead, if Missy made reference to his "bad knee," he'd snap, "I don't have a bad knee." No one, especially not Chris himself, could use it as an excuse.
Still, he was nervous as he drove to Utah that fall to take the pre-Olympic physical test -- a sort of pre-camp measurement of agility and strength -- which would be the first time he'd meet the new U.S. coach, Jan Wegelin. He was wondering how it would go when he flipped on the radio. What he heard nearly caused him to veer off the road. The broadcaster announced that Walter Payton had died the night before of liver cancer. Pulling onto the shoulder, Chris began to cry. He knew that it was more than liver cancer that had killed his boyhood hero; it was PSC.
In an emotional press conference in February, the former running back had disclosed that he had PSC and that he needed a liver transplant. Payton had looked terrible. Even worse than he looked, though, was how Payton had cried. Chris had wanted to tell him that it wasn't so bad; he'd get a liver and go on with his life.
Now Payton, as tough an athlete as there ever was, was dead at age 45, and Chris thought he knew why the football player had broken down at the press conference. He already knew he had cancer and wasn't eligible for a liver transplant.
For the first time since he'd been diagnosed, Chris was truly frightened. Back then, Everson hadn't emphasized the possibility of liver cancer or transplants. Chris had been going along, rarely thinking of his disease between rounds of ERCPs. When he did, it was always with the thought that there was plenty of time before he had to worry about the more drastic ramifications.
Death was never an option...until Chris heard the news about Payton. Why me? He got on his cell phone and called his father, who'd also heard the news. "What does this mean for me?" he asked.
Warren flinched at the words. This was the Bounce-Back Kid, the one you couldn't keep down. Whether it was fighting to breathe, losing a race he expected to win, or undergoing a surgeon's knife, Chris always popped back up. Now he was going to have to rebound again. Warren told his son that he didn't have to accept Payton's fate. Chris could be a participant in his own destiny; he could fight this thing. He pointed out that Payton had been older and probably wasn't diagnosed until it was too late. Chris had been fortunate that a routine blood test had led him to Dr. Tomasso, who probed until he had an answer. Now he was with the best liver specialists in the world.
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.
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.
"We couldn't do anything for him."
Missy frowned. "You mean you couldn't do much?"
"No," the physician said. "I mean we couldn't do anything." Chris's bile ducts were completely closed; the doctors couldn't open any of them.
The next morning, Everson met with Chris, Warren and Missy. He'd brought Kam, the chief of transplant surgery at University Hospital. The failed ERCP meant only one thing. "We want to move Chris up to Status 2B," Everson said. He needed a transplant as soon as it could be arranged.
Transplant hospitals belong to the United Network of Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which list transplant patients according to their medical status. Chris had originally been placed on Status 3, which meant he was receiving ongoing medical care for his liver but was a low priority as far as immediate need.
The final two status levels were 2A and 1. They were reserved for critically ill patients. If a liver became available, a 2A or 1 would trump Chris's 2B. It was now that Everson's foresight in putting Chris on the list three years earlier became apparent. Within a status group, there were determining factors as to who would get a liver, such as medical urgency, matching blood types, size (a child's liver would go best with a child), and age. However, all other things being equal, the only difference between people in a status group was the length of time they'd been on the transplant list.
With three years behind him, Chris would be right at the top, Everson said. But first they had to get him on the 2B list, and that wasn't guaranteed.
UNOS divides the country into regions. Colorado is part of Region 8, which also includes Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Each region has a panel of doctors at a transplant site who have to approve a patient being moved up in status according to medical criteria. But the liver of a PSC patient doesn't often meet the usual transplant criteria, because the problem is with the bile ducts, not the liver. By the time the bile ducts damage the liver -- with cirrhosis or liver cancer, for instance -- it might be too late. So special permission has to be sought from the panel of doctors for PSC patients.
The specialists were confident that they would get approval to move Chris up, though it would take a week to ten days. In the meantime, he could go to Hawaii to surf.
During the first few months of 2000, University Hospital had performed liver transplants at a record pace because there had been a lot of organ donors. The average waiting period for patients was thirty to sixty days. It shouldn't be long now.
"Come on, wait just a few more minutes," Warren Klug urged Chris. "This is going to blow right over."
Chris, Warren and Kathy had met at the golf course on the outskirts of Aspen for a "Klug family outing," but it had quickly become apparent that they wouldn't be playing this July afternoon. The storm clouds that had been building up all morning behind the Maroon Bells were now descending.
Thunder rumbled down from the high country. Warren dismissed the approaching storm with a wave and a smile: "Five minutes and it will be gone." The words were hardly out of his mouth when a bolt struck the summit of Buttermilk Mountain, a mile distant.
"I'm outta here," Chris said, as the lightning flashed again, only closer.
His parents protested. Surely this storm would pass and the sun would come out.
Chris wasn't convinced. He hugged them and walked off, his ponytail fluttering in the building tempest. Warren and Kathy knew they couldn't wish away a Colorado thunderstorm any more than they could wish away the disease that was killing their tall, muscular son. It was just that sometimes it seemed as if there were a conspiracy to rob them of their time with Chris. Lightning storms, birth complications, childhood ailments. And now he needed a liver transplant, or he might not make it to his 28th birthday in November.
In this difficult time, they drew strength from their faith, from Warren's oft-repeated mantra that God wouldn't have brought Chris through so much only to abandon him. They also relied on Chris's self-confidence: He wasn't going to let some disease stop him from getting his medal.
Still, there was the feeling that time was running out. There were simply not enough organs -- hearts, lungs, kidneys, livers -- for everyone who needed them.
"Tomorrow it's 72 days since they put him on the top of the list," Kathy said quietly as they walked to their car. "The doctors said sixty days, tops."
Once Chris had been moved up on the list, he'd been sent home with a pager by Tracy Steinberg, a transplant coordinator. She said that when a potential donor was located, she would page him three times and then try the phone numbers he'd been asked to supply.
Convinced the call would come soon, Chris followed the rules for a few weeks.
But there was no page. Steinberg herself was perplexed by the length of the wait. They'd been transplanting livers at the rate of one or two a week through the spring. Suddenly, the donor pool had dried up.
One month passed. Then two. Time seemed to be speeding up while Chris was slowing down. He had never dreamed it would take so long, and he swore that if he survived, he would do what he could to champion the cause of organ-donor awareness, just as Lance Armstrong had used his fame to bring attention to cancer awareness.
At first Chris kept up with his training, bent on making a record comeback. A typical day, usually with Missy or another of his many friends, might include a five-hour bike ride up a mountain, followed by a volleyball game, a weightlifting session and a round of golf with his parents.
By mid-July, however, Chris could feel his body failing him. Powerful antibiotics kept the worst infections at bay, but he seemed to run a constant low-grade fever. By the end of the month, he'd put his mountain bike away; he simply couldn't recover from any aerobic exercise. His activities were mostly limited to golf or fly-fishing. Some days, all he could do was to sit on the couch and play chess.
He drew inspiration following the progress of Lance Armstrong, who was cruising through the Alps and in the midst of making his second bid to win the Tour de France. And for the most part, Chris avoided conversations about what his deteriorating health might mean.
He still kept his disease quiet, but it wasn't so much because he was worried what anybody else would think. He was making a point of spending all of his time with his family and friends. He didn't want to waste what were possibly the last days of his life answering questions and talking to strangers about his disease.
But he didn't want his loved ones worrying, either. Only rarely did the pressure build up so much that he slipped, saying something like, "Of course, I might not make it." Still, the dark specter of complete liver failure or cancer hung in his thoughts. The longer he went, the more likely that cancer would appear, and then, just as with Walter Payton, there'd be no more talk of a lifesaving liver transplant. He'd be dead.
Outwardly, he appeared more concerned about what further delays would do to his racing season, particularly important this year for gaining points to make the Olympic team. It was going to take time to rehabilitate, he fretted.
Family and friends handled the pressure in their own way. They all worked to keep Chris occupied and encouraged. Fabrocini called David Robinson and asked him to have Sean Elliot, his teammate, call Chris. Elliot was the first professional athlete to come back and play after an organ transplant -- in his case, a kidney transplant. He encouraged Chris to keep working out as best he could. It could be done, he said. He'd done it, though not with a liver transplant -- a tougher operation.
Sleepless nights were unavoidable, especially for Kathy. But when things were at their grimmest, she recalled who it was that she was fearful for and gained hope. Wasn't this the struggling infant who'd gripped her finger so tightly she knew he wasn't leaving...the teenager who'd told anyone who would listen that he would be in the Olympics someday...one of the best in his sport a year after being told he might never walk normally again...the Olympian? God had plans for this kid, of that she was sure.
But privately, Chris was starting to realize that he might die. He would wake up in the night having soaked his sheets with sweat while dreaming. Sometimes he dreamed he had a new liver and was back racing. But there were the nightmares when he didn't make it. During the days, Chris kept himself up by focusing on the finish line. He was going to do his damnedest to make good on his promise to get the gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002.
There was one issue that they all wrestled with: For Chris to live, someone else had to die. Chris was troubled by it. He loved life so much, it was hard to come to grips with the idea that someone else would have to lose his so that Chris could go on. In the rare moments when he would acknowledge the possibility of his own death, he told Missy that it made him feel better to know that he'd taken such good care of his heart, lungs and kidneys so that someone else could enjoy their use.
His parents were troubled, too. They had believed in the power of prayer all their lives. They'd asked God to watch over their children, prayed for divine intervention when Chris was an infant and when he struggled to breathe as a child. But how could they pray for someone else's child to be killed in a terrible accident so that their son could live? The dilemma struck home that summer when the eleven-year-old daughter of friends was killed in an automobile accident. At the memorial service, Chris's father had been acutely aware of the grieving parents as he realized with horror, This is the other side of what Chris needs.
Still, they couldn't help but be drawn to stories in the Denver newspapers about automobile accidents or gunshot victims. They would read about death and then wonder if the telephone was going to ring, offering life.
Sometimes the frustration would make its way into the dark humor that preserved their sanity. As things grew more desperate, Chris had a running joke about hanging around a certain popular but dangerous rock-climbing spot with a cooler, ice and a scalpel -- to collect a liver. Chris and Missy would pass someone riding a motorcycle without a helmet and say, "There's an organ donor." It was just easier to laugh than to cry.
But the humor couldn't cover the growing frustration. After the Fourth of July holiday, they'd read that a dozen people had died in car accidents, three or four of them under thirty years old. But there'd been no calls, and they'd been left to wonder if the victims' internal injuries had been too severe or the victims simply had not registered to be donors.
The night of July 25, they'd gathered to celebrate Kathy's birthday. Chris tried to be upbeat for her sake, but Kathy knew he was sinking into depression. They prayed together that night that somewhere, someone would make the decision that would spare Chris's life.
The next morning, Missy spotted an article in a Denver newspaper about a thirteen-year-old boy who'd been shot the night before by another teen in a Denver-area trailer park. The story said the youth, shot in the head, had been taken to St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver. She wondered if this would be the day they got the call.
They'd gone to Ruedi Reservoir with family and friends, where Chris had followed his doctors' order to "take it easy" by barefoot water skiing all day. Such activities helped keep his mind off the telephone, but there was also a sense that he was saying goodbye to the things he loved, at least for a while.
The pager stayed quiet all day, and there were no telephone messages when they got back to their condo that evening. So Missy dismissed the shooting victim as a possible candidate.
The next morning, Chris reported to the clinic for bloodwork. The news wasn't good. His immune system was being overwhelmed. The doctor decided to give him a pneumonia vaccine while his system was still strong enough to benefit. Chris complained that the vaccine made his arm sore, which combined with general stiffness in his back and neck from the previous day's water skiing. Still, he reported to the Aspen Club to work out.
While Chris exercised, Missy went for a hike above Aspen. At the top, she sat down on a rock cropping to take in the day. She was enjoying the sunshine, but then started thinking that maybe she'd been gone too long. She'd just about reached the bottom of the trail when she saw a friend sprinting toward her. "Chris got his call," the friend shouted.
Chris had just walked into the locker room when his father phoned and said the hospital coordinator wanted him to call. Chris had immediately called Steinberg at University Hospital. "Well, we have a possible donor, and you need to get down here," she'd told him. She assured him that if he was there in six hours, there'd be no problem.
He had only one more question. For once, his appetite was back, and he'd had only a bowl of Cream of Wheat for breakfast. "I was just about to go get a smoothie," he said.
"Don't," was Steinberg's reply. "Just get down here."
Chris called his parents as he and Missy rushed to their apartment. "I've been waiting so long and thought I'd be excited," he confessed to Missy. "But now that it's happening, I'm really nervous."
Soon they were in the air, headed for Denver. Warren and Missy kept assuring the nervous Chris that all would be well. They'd both picked up a newspaper before boarding the jet. There on the front page was another story about the teen who'd been shot...an accident, according to the teen who'd been arrested for it.
Missy and Warren looked at each other and nodded at the article. They pointed it out to Chris.
"Oh, you guys don't know," he protested and looked out the window. It was obvious to them that he didn't want to have to deal with that reality just now.
Next week: The operation and the quest for the Olympics.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.