It’s hard to believe a year has passed since my potentially life-threatening fall while covering Mount Marathon, my last assignment as photo intern with the Anchorage Daily News.
With the support of my friends and family along with the miraculous power of prayer, I chugged through a difficult year of loathsome daily physical therapy, crutching from class-to-class in humid Missouri heat, bathing on a shower chair like a grandma, cheering on my field hockey team from a cold bench and missing my beloved photo jobs temporarily. Health is the one gift I take for granted.
But without this year–my growing reliance on God, my engagement to my best friend, my deepened relationships (you know who you are), my amazing internship with the Tribune-Review–life wouldn’t have the same meaning to me as the past.
Nothing is ever guaranteed, and I am not deserving of any accomplishments or good fortunes that can be mistaken for hard work. As unpatriotic as it sounds, this “American Dream” ideology is complete bologna. I am helpless, like laying shattered and writhing in pain at the bottom of an Alaskan forest, until anybody hears my lowly voice. My savior Jesus Christ answers.
Reminiscing July 4, 2011…
It took me two hours to pass vegetation halfway up the mountain, and before I knew it, the racers were already within photographing distance. I shot them climbing on all fours up the mountain, splashing tiny cups of water on themselves at midpoint and running uncontrollably on their descent.
The fewer racers I saw, the more I knew I must start safely trekking back to submit my photos for deadline. Since I was unfamiliar with the mountain, I followed the remaining runners as they sat on boulders and slowly scooted their way down as a chilling creek that soaked through their underwear. Eventually, I found the trail I followed up the mountain, which required climbing tree roots, like a ladder, about 60 feet high.
Then I began to gradually slip. I tried to shove my fingers into the moving soil beneath me. My momentum was so great I couldn’t feel my injuries while I face-planted repeatedly against stocky tree roots, pinecone-freckled turf and jagged rocks.
Luckily, I fell far enough — 50 or 60 feet — that people heard instantly, and I was conscious to do so. “We hear you!” their voices echoed in the woods. A man held my hand as another yanked my disfigured leg into place. After I was carried away to the Seward hospital on a gurney, I told photographer Marc Lester to find my camera. He whipped it out and started photographing me strapped in a neck brace. I never smiled so big.
Over the course of two surgeries, roughly a week in the hospital, a broken left ankle, a severely sprained right ankle, deep wounds, bruises, cuts and all, I had a generous amount of time to think, even though I would often fall asleep with my meals partially spilled in my speckled green XXL hospital gown at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
The photo staff of five would bring Moose’s Tooth Pizza and keep me company. Anne Raup woke me one day to give me a card from the entire paper. As soon as I opened it, a thick pile of $20 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.
Photojournalism pays forward as well. The stories we report, the photos we make and the information we publish can — as corny as it sounds — change our world and community.
I never met a group of people who took me under its wing 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 and mentors 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.
Happy Independence Day.
(The abridged version published on the ADN’s photo blog is accessible here.)
Campers crowd the shores of Resurrection Bay to admire the fireworks show on July 3, 2011 in Seward, Alaska.