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A tragic accident teaches there are many ways to slide down a slope, but only one way to live your life.
It was a sunny, spring Sunday in mid-March, closing day, 1997. We were still boasting a 30-inch base on our 250 feet of vertical at Cannonsburg Ski Area in Grand Rapids, Mich. There wasn’t a crowd: just me, my son, 10 of my fellow instructors, four or five season-pass holders, and a fat lady in hockey pants with her two kids on the rope-tow.
It was one of those days where you just keep yo-yoing run after run after run, skiing at full speed right into the chair with no line or ropes to slow you down.
At lunch, we had brats and some cold beers outside. We started talking about what all instructors in the Midwest talk about: quitting our day jobs, moving out West and teaching full time. Then we came to the conclusion that most of us would soon be broke, homeless, divorced and paying more in alimony than we would make teaching skiing, “but wouldn’t it be cool.”
After lunch, my 12-year-old ski buddy (my son) and I took off our skis and boarded. We laid down some of the deepest carves I have ever made, grabbing a handful of snow on every turn. We checked out some shaped skis later and stayed out until the lifts closed.
I remember standing on the summit, looking at the greening countryside and thanking God for another ski season. What was different about that year was that it was my last as a stand-up skier/snowboarder. I broke my back a few months later in a dirt-bike accident and became paralyzed from the waist down.
I knew that most of the things I had enjoyed doing with my son were now in the past. As I sat in my hospital room pondering what I was going to do, the U.S. Disabled Ski Championships came on ESPN. I saw U.S. Ski team members Sara Will, Muffy Davis and Chris Waddell tearing up the slopes. The next day I ordered my Yeti mono-ski.
After six months in the hospital, I arrived home to find my new mono ski in my living room. It was summer, so I put a Warren Miller movie in the VCR, sat in my mono ski and dreamed of powder, hard pack and groomed runs.
Finally in late December the temperature dropped and Cannonsburg Ski Area opened. I finished dead last in my first race-but I finished. I remember crossing the finish line and looking up and seeing my son. I started to cry.
My team finished 15th out of 16 teams, we beat a stand-up team, but most important, I skied with my son. We moved to Park City, Utah, and I joined the Disabled Team. This season I hope to make the Olympic team and race in the 2002 Games.
I had read an article in SKI magazine several years before my accident about a lady who had been a ski writer for 30 years and was retiring to Arizona. She was talking about standing at the top of the hill knowing that this was the last ski run she would ever make. I tried to imagine what that would feel like, and it brought tears to my eyes. I just knew what my last run would be like. I would start out fast, savor every turn, stop at the bottom and say, “OK, one more,” only to find the lift had closed.
I am glad that my skiing did not end that last day of the season before I had my accident. Sometimes we take life for granted. I’m lucky I have a second chance for a last run-and you better believe I will remember every run from now on as if it were my last.
I remember getting to the bottom of the hill that day and hearing my son say, “Come on dad, let’s take one more run, please!” Son, I’m glad we can.
To make a tax-deductible donation to Tom Hernon’s Olympic effort, call 435- 649-4866, or email tom email@example.com.