It doesn’t matter if you’re a skier or snowboarder, beginner or expert, we can all agree on one thing: getting injured sucks. The worst part is, it always seems to happen doing something exponentially uncool. For instance, I was walking into work one icy December morning when I slipped on a patch of ice and took a hard spill. By ‘hard spill’ I mean I heard my ankle snap when I fell (shiver). Laying on the ground, all I could think was two things: 1. I definitely just broke my ankle and 2. My season is over. I woke up every four hours in the hospital in pain buzzing for the nurse, and all I could see out the window was a solitary street lamp illuminating the snow that was DUMPING...all night.
Anyone who has seriously injured themselves can tell you it is not only extremely painful physically, but that the emotional and mental challenge is sometimes harder to deal with than the injury itself. The pain of looking at that street lamp made breaking my ankle seem like a walk in the park. While I was waiting to go into surgery, the GM of Sierra, John Rice, came in to visit me and said, ‘You know Alex, everything happens for a reason, and even though you may not be able to see it now, there’s a reason this happened. I was sitting in the same hospital bed in this same room a few months ago.’
John’s words have helped me get through some of the tougher moments of being injured. Since John was able to help me gain some perspective on my injury, I thought maybe he would be able to help others in a similar situation do the same. So, I sat down with him to ask a few questions and get some insight from the man himself.
How did you hurt yourself this summer?
I was at the end of a day of cycling and paddle boarding, going for the trifecta of wakeboarding, and there were no bindings that could fit my feet on the board. So, I decided to wake skate on a wakeboard, which I’ve done several times. The problem is there’s no friction on the surface like there is on a wakeboard. So, I’m riding, I’m having fun, I’m cruising…my back foot slips off the board, my foot’s kind of flapping on the water, and I’m in almost a trick position on one leg. I made a judgment error, which was instead of letting go and falling in the water, I tried to make a save and I entered the water still holding the rope. The force of my body position and the fact that I was still pulling the rope caused my legs to go apart underwater. I felt kind of a shock feeling inside…like an electric shock…but I swam over to the boat and climbed in, had a beer. Going back in was when I started to realize maybe I had a pulled groin muscle and I started to feel shaken, they thought I was cold but I was in shock.
What did the doctor end up diagnosing as the actual injury?
I suffered what’s called an open-book pelvic fracture, which is a life threatening injury that has about a 50% mortality rate. I had no idea the severity at the time or I wouldn’t have walked on my hands and knees up to the dock, I would’ve called an ambulance right away.
How did your injury effect your day-to-day life?
Well, I was completely immobilized. I had feeling in my hands and feet, and my mind was sound, but I couldn’t move my body. Post surgery I was in a lot of pain, and I couldn’t reach anything or get anything for myself. I was in ICU for 4 days, the regular hospital for another 9 days. Came home, and I was in a hospital bed in my living room for another 6 weeks.
Was it hard for you to stay positive?
I will tell you that my mind went through the whole range of emotions and feelings. I had to go through denial; what just happened, why am I here in this hospital bed, what were all the things I could’ve done to prevent this? Then you get to acceptance, and each day you have to just say, I’m alive, I’m ok, I have to get an inch today. I can’t get a mile but I’m going to go for an inch.
The mental thing that happened, I kind of got into a spiral, I was looking online and reading and hearing about how people never recover from this, so that was really hard. My son came in and asked me what I was so down about, and then he told me, ‘When we were kids you would never let us go there mentally, you always kept us positive and said this happened for a reason and to learn from it and grow from it.’ So he was kind of giving me a little dose of my own medicine. Then the doctor came in, and he told me I’ll be able to do all of my favorite activities again. To me that was a ray of hope; it came from my own family, my son, then it came from my doctor, a medical validation that it’s not just hope.
What happened on the spiritual side was bizarre; a reverend visiting the patient next to me steps into my room and asks if he can sit down and pray with me and I said, ‘Sure.’ He gave me his card and about 3 weeks later I sent him an email and I let him know he came at a time when I was really down mentally, and I really appreciate that. He writes me back, and he said he heard the Lord say he’s not through with me, that my life is going to be a testimony to many and I will walk again in my own strength. This validated that someone I’ve never met before said, ‘You’ve got a life ahead of you, you’ve got stuff left to do, you’re not done and this isn’t the end.’ So physically I was good, my family was awesome, and I realized maybe this happened for a reason. I had a great healing team, from my medical providers to my family at home and friends who came to visit. I knew I wasn’t alone and it gave me the extra motivation I needed to heal.
What advice would you give to someone who has been injured?
My advice would be to not dwell on the negativity. Now when I see someone in a wheel chair I have a lot of respect for them and I realized how judgmental I’ve been, for a big part of my life perhaps. I would say work with what you’ve got; realize that yes, you’re down right now, but you still have your capacities, you can still do a lot of things that most people can’t do, that we’re blessed even at times when we have to slow down and hit the brakes. Know that you’re gonna get better, you’re thinking about it, envisioning it. I thought about the first run I’m going to take and how it’s going to be so awesome. The biggest lesson for me was that sometimes it’s better to let go then to try to make the miraculous save.
John playing with his band, The Rice Brothers.
I think it shocked a lot of people to hear that a pillar of the Lake Tahoe community and the Sierra-at-Tahoe family, someone who is strong like John Rice, suffered such a serious injury. Hopefully hearing about John’s experience and ability to come back and keep leading the Sierra family will help someone in a similar situation mentally heal the way it helped me.