Longform

The Kid Bounces Back

Page 15 of 18

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.

Because he'd been free-riding, he hadn't worn his racing helmet, and the blow to his head caused him to see stars. He hadn't worn a one-piece suit, either, and he ended up with a few yards of snow down his baggy rider pants.

Chris lay on the snow, afraid to get up. He mentally searched his body, waiting for some pain or strange sensation to tell him that his comeback was going to be short-lived. But there was nothing worse than a similar fall would have caused before the operation. I'm okay, he thought. I'm really okay!

At last he stood and made his way off to the side of the slope, where he dropped his pants to get the snow out. His coach, Jan Wegelin, who'd seen the crash, thought maybe Chris had really frightened himself in the fall. "What'd you do?" Wegelin yelled, laughing. "Shit your pants?"

Chris realized the image he must have presented -- bent over with his pants down while he dumped the snow out. His peculiar laugh pealed across the slope, partly at his coach's joke, but more in relief at having taken a hard fall and survived. It would have happened sooner or later, and until it did, it would have weighed on him mentally. Now, he concluded, he had nothing to fear on the slopes. The next morning, he joined his teammates at the running gates and quickly established himself as the top American rider going into the season.

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Steve Jackson