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Portland, Ore. April 14, 2001 (AP by Landon Hall)–The family of injured skier Bill Johnson can imagine a time when the Olympic champion is home with them, recovering from the crash that nearly killed him.
And they say that time, when he leaves the hospital and gets back to being his “ornery” self, will come sooner than doctors think.
The 41-year-old Johnson has made enough advances in recovering from the March 22 accident in Montana that he is officially out of a coma, a doctor at Providence Medical Center said on Friday.
“He is waking up,” said Dr. Molly Hoeflich, head of the hospital’s rehabilitation unit, where Johnson will undergo intensive therapy until he is well enough to be moved to his mother’s home in Gresham, east of Portland.
That’s near Mount Hood, where Johnson trained for his 1984 downhill gold at the Sarajevo Olympics.
“Our home is away in the mountains, and in a nice setting, so I think it’ll be a good, healthy place for him to be in,” said his mother, DB Johnson.
“Ultimately, he’s going to progress to a stage where he’s going to make his own decisions _ where he wants to be, what he wants to do,” said Johnson’s stepfather, Jimmy Cooper. “And in the meantime, Mom’s looking out for him.”
Even though Johnson was able to respond to some outside stimuli when he was brought to the hospital Wednesday, he was technically considered to be in a coma. But Hoeflich said he is making slight movements on his own, and making stronger responses to people he recognizes.
A visit from Johnson’s skiing trainer, John Creel, and Creel’s wife on Friday morning seemed to lift his spirits, his family said.
“They were very upbeat and real positive, and he just responded really well,” DB Johnson said. “He was nodding his head, looking at them.”
Creel jokingly reminded Johnson of their last conversation before the crash: Johnson was supposed to meet Creel back at the team truck after the training run.
Creel said to Johnson, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting at the truck the last three weeks,” Cooper said. “And Billy kind of smiled.”
Johnson, born in Southern California but raised in the hills east of Portland, shed his bad-boy reputation by winning downhill gold at the Sarajevo Olympics. He was attempting a comeback when he crashed face-first on hard-packed ice during a warmup for the U.S. Alpine Championships in Whitefish, Mont.
DB Johnson said her son _ known for being fiercely independent, often to a fault _ won’t want to waste time getting better.
“I think he’ll be ornery enough inside that he wants to get out of there and get out and do things,” she said. “He’s always been a very ambitious person, so for him to sit still, I believe that bothers him.”
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press