Today was the last day I was allowed to use my handicap parking pass. It was a great perk, but I am so grateful I am recovering quickly. It is hard to believe four months have passed since my potentially life-threatening fall.
The July 4th Mount Marathon race was my last assignment with the Anchorage Daily News. It is deemed as one of the oldest foot races in the country and often features Olympic Nordic skiers as competitors. Dense woods, jagged rocks and slippery boulders slow the racers, sometimes leaving them bloodied.
It took me two hours to pass vegetation halfway up the mountain. I heard faint cheers from the street lined with fans as the race started. I caught my breath, and before I knew it, the racers were already within photographing distance. I shot them climbing on all fours up the mountain, splashing a tiny cup of water on themselves offered by volunteers at midpoint, and running uncontrollably during their descent.
The fewer racers I saw, the more I knew I was in trouble for myself to safely trek down to the hotel and submit my photos for deadline. Since I was unfamiliar with the mountain, I followed the remaining runners. They sat on titanic boulders and slowly scooted their way down as a chilling creek soaked their underwear. I was nervous the entire time for my safety and my hard-earned camera equipment in a floppy drawstring Adidas bag on my back.
Eventually, there was a trail adjacent to the creek I was inching through, and I knew I was almost home free. It was the same trail I followed up the mountain after climbing tree roots like a ladder, on a steep portion about 60 feet from the base. Then I began to gradually slip, trying to shove my fingers into the moving soil beneath me. My momentum was so fast I couldn’t feel what injuries I had already sustained. I face planted repeatedly against stocky tree roots, pinecone freckled turf and jagged rocks. I screamed.
Luckily, I fell far enough that people heard instantly, and I was conscious to do so. A man held my hand as another pulled my disfigured leg into place. After my clothes were cut off in the Seward hospital I was flown an hour north to Anchorage to have surgery. An eventual second surgery on an infected knee tendon took place a few days after.
Two surgeries later, medications, roughly a week in the hospital, a broken ankle, deep wounds, bruising, lacerations and all, I had a generous amount of time to think even though I would often fall asleep with my meals partially spilt in my green XXL speckled hospital gown in Providence Hospital in Anchorage, Alaska.
The photo staff of five would come to share Thai food with me and enjoy some beers. Anne, the photo editor, woke me one day to give me a card from the entire paper. As soon as I opened it, a thick pile of 20-dollar bills covered my lap. I cried and she did too. “I know you will pay it forward,” she said. I didn’t count it until I went home to Pittsburgh—$451.
I have never met a group of people who took me under their wings like the ADN photo staff. I came wanting to grow as a photojournalist, and I left as a more mature human being with a solid group of friends who sincerely have my back. Wherever my career may lead, I will never forget my roots in Anchorage—or the actual roots I fell from in Seward. God has blessed me with priceless friendships that care more about me than my silly portfolio or resume I stress over in college.
I am recovering faster than my athletic trainers have anticipated. I came to school in Springfield, Mo. in August unable to wiggle my toes, but now I can run 15 minutes every day. Throughout this whole experience I have learned to be patient and selfless, but most importantly I learned to trust God more.
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31