The Sally Francklyn Story

[Editor's note: Sally Francklyn is a writer, skier, and much-loved personality in the freeskiing industry. The past year and a half of her life have been beyond difficult, but with a lot of hard work, help from others and an indomitable spirit, she is working to overcome a traumatic brain injury. This is her story, in her words. For the next three weeks, Sally will interview other people in the ski community who have suffered hardships and managed to fight through them. Check back next Monday for Sally's interview with a coach who lost his brightest star.]

I don't remember anything about that day, or even the day before. It was Saturday, March 24, 2012.

Later, my friends and family filled me in on what happened to me.

I was backcountry skiing with my friends Jeff Brines, Patrick Nelson and Jeff Byl in Jackson Hole, Wyo. We rode the tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, then hiked out of bounds. We were headed to a backcountry zone called the Martini Chutes, but to get there, we decided to ski a steep couloir off Cody Peak called Once is Enough. The snow conditions looked stable and safe to ski the line.

Brines went first, and he made the skiing look easy. It was my turn next. As I dropped in, I caught an edge and started tumbling downhill.

I couldn't self-arrest, couldn't stop myself from sliding. I fell more than 800 feet, gaining speed on my way down, and a rock wall stopped my fall. I slammed my head, shattering my helmet into tiny pieces. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I probably wouldn't be here today. Even with the helmet, the doctors later said there was a chance I wouldn't make it out alive.

Jeff Brines

Sally Francklyn skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyo., before her 2012 injury.

When my friends got to me, I was unconscious but still breathing. They immediately called for help. Ski patrol arrived and put me in a neck brace and brought me down to the helicopter in a toboggan.

A helicopter flew me out of the mountains and to a trauma center in Idaho Falls, Idaho, about 85 miles away. I was admitted to the emergency room sometime Saturday afternoon.

Room No. 204 in the intensive care unit became my home for the next three weeks. I was in a medically induced coma for two weeks. My nurse, Roxy, who also worked as a ski patroller at a small mountain in Idaho, took care of me for days on end, 10 hours each day.

Doctors inserted a tube in my brain to help drain fluid and monitor intracranial pressure. They had to buzz my long, blond hair.

My name is Sally Francklyn and I have a traumatic brain injury.

Less than two months earlier, I had moved to Jackson, Wyo., to ski. I was a good skier already -- I've skied in Chile, New Zealand, and all over the U.S. -- but I knew I'd be challenged in Jackson Hole.

I got a job in Jackson working in public relations for some ski-industry clients, like Nordica and Arc'teryx. I could go skiing and call it "work." I spent every Saturday and Sunday skiing, and the mountains of the Tetons felt big and steep.

Where I come from, skiing every winter weekend was a normal part of life. I'm originally from Colorado Springs, Colo., and I'd worked as a ski patroller at Copper Mountain, as an editor at Ski Magazine and in marketing for Vail Resorts, so skiing was always a part of my life and my job.

When my parents got the call that I had been hurt, their worst nightmare had come true. They traveled to Idaho Falls, more than 600 miles away, as quickly as they possibly could. After three weeks in Idaho, I was flown to Colorado Springs where I could be closer to my parents' house. I stayed in the intensive care unit, was later moved to a long-term acute care unit and finally, to a rehabilitation unit on the eighth floor.

Reg Francklyn

Sally Francklyn, photographed recently at home in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The people who took care of me in Colorado Springs -- Cindy, Sara, Kathy, Greg, Andrea, Rodalynn and others -- they did so much for me. Kathy was the hardest-working person I knew on the eighth floor. She helped me walk at first.

It was at that hospital where I relearned how to stand up, how to talk, eat and write. It was there that I became aware enough to realize what had happened to me.

My injury was to the left side of my brain, so the right side of my body is much weaker now. For example, I used to be right-handed and now I'm having to learn how to do things with my left hand. I also had a broken ankle on the right side and some ligament damage.

Back in Colorado, I had therapy every day, and my strength started improving. I have therapy less frequently now, but normal life is almost like therapy. The right side of my body still doesn't work as well as it used to. In fact, nothing works as well as it used to. I feel very slow, even though I have a lot of people taking care of me.

The headaches come every once in a while. I'm wearing a mouth guard at night to see if that helps. My balance is slowly improving.

A grant from the High Fives Foundation helped me go to a brain training class. I worked one-on-one with a teacher. It was mostly young kids and their parents there -- I never saw anyone in their 20s, like me.

It can be hard sometimes, but so much has to get better, so hard is good. I just keep working and slowly, bit by bit, things become easier. I can ride a bike with my dad now, and last spring, I put my skis on again for the first time and walked around on snow-covered flat ground. 

I'm excited to move back to the mountains again someday. It's only a matter of time before that happens.

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