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Nick Williams waits for the big one during happier times in Maui. A freak encounter with a four-foot rogue in Delaware in August left him shaken but ready for more.
Nick Williams waits for the big one during happier times in Maui. A freak encounter with a four-foot rogue in Delaware in August left him shaken but ready for more.
By David O. Williams 
Adding injury to injury in an orthopedic oasis
Injuries can pile up in the Vail Valley, but luckily we've got the docs to deal with them
By David O. Williams

August 22, 2008 — My short, dubious career as a big-wave boogie boarder came to a crashing halt last week when I was worked by a four-footer on Rehoboth Beach in Delaware.

The small but powerful East Coast pile driver pounded my son Nick and I headfirst into the decidedly firm terra firma and I really thought I had either dislocated my shoulder, broken my clavicle or both.

Turns out I just bruised the hell out of myself, including my ego, but this latest orthopedic episode merely underscores my rapidly accelerating mortality. Last winter, for instance, I was Lazarus in a La-Z-Boy.

Because like the biblical beggar I was limited last ski season by my lot in life (a knee injury in January and subsequent surgery in March) to seeking the psychological sustenance of my more fortunate family members and friends, all of whom smugly enjoyed an almost embarrassing riches of snow in ’07-08.

Even as the hair has started to grow back on my shaved, plucked-chicken of a left leg, even as my crutches disappeared into a dark corner of the garage, even as the gauze and ice machine were relegated to the depths of some far-flung closet, I was holding out hope in early April for an athletic resurrection that would somehow allow me vengeance on my season-long tormentors.

Or at the least the ability to chase down my one-year-old son, who learned to walk the week I stopped being able to. With a devilish grin on his face, he soon realized he could do laps around me and probably make it halfway up our spiral stairs before I could even get off the couch.

My friends never missed a chance during the 400-inch-plus season that was to chuckle and tell me I wasn’t missing much – their grinning, wind-burned and raccoon-eyed faces giving the lie to that notion. But I’ll be back, as the Governator used to say, and maybe then they’ll be the ones hobbling about town like lepers on leg braces, social outcasts in a place that celebrates living large – not living lame.

Suffering a mid-season injury in a ski town in the process of being incrementally buried by more than 34 feet of snow is like living in Nashville and preferring punk, pulling for the Yankees in Beantown, or cutting coffee from your life and calling Seattle home. You will be vilified.

Limping around Vail last winter I would smile at people in the supermarket and the post office, pretending to be glad their season had been so amazing and their business was doing so well, all the while cringing at the pity and sometimes secret celebration in their sidelong glances.

There is a certain satisfaction in knowing you’re getting the goods and someone else can’t because of bad luck (like when the pass closes and we have the mountain to ourselves). And besides, most everyone in town has been there, done that, when it comes to major sports injuries, so their empathy only extends so far. They’ve all had their own epic seasons lost.

There’s a reason some of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world call Vail home: we are a willing and well-insured population of self-abusers. For years I’ve written about the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic from the outside looking in, and now my research is tinged by the harsh reality of personal experience.

But if you have to get hurt, this is the place to do it. The reputations of the Steadman clinic, the Vail Valley Medical Center and the Howard Head Sports Medicine Centers are well-deserved. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing more of them as my 43-year-old body continues to disintegrate.

Now I’m just getting depressing, though, and my wife reminded me the point of this column is to keep it light, which is a challenge when you’re lamenting lost ligaments. Unless I focus on the incident itself. No heroic cliff drop or death-defying avy escape here. Just pure pratfall.

I slipped on dry (damned snowmelt systems) pavers while sprinting through Slifer Plaza in ski boots, all in a bid to make it back to the parking structure before my hour and a half freebie expired (to save $10 I incurred thousands in medical expenses). I was in the midst of hordes of tourists who graciously collected my scattered gear and made good-faith efforts not to ridicule the hotshot local planted painfully on his keaster.

Now that’s funny. And even more mirthful was my wife’s misfortune a few weeks later when our four-year-old skied into her and she broke her ankle. Thinking it was merely sprained, she was hopping down the stairs on one foot when she slipped and broke her tailbone. Hilarious, right? The same four-year-old later in the season leaped off the couch and cleaved his scalp down to the skull on the edge of the coffee table.

That was our winter in nutshell: chased by a black cloud and earning frequent fix-it miles at the Vail hospital. As winter gave way to spring we were all on the mend, but just to be safe I’d decline an invite to dinner. You’re likely to leave on a stretcher.

A version of this column first appeared in Vail Beaver Creek Magazine.



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