Spencer discovers the art of healing | ParkRecord.com
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Spencer discovers the art of healing

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

The roster of Olympians who are Park City homeowners just went up by one.

Or maybe by one-half.

Longtime Parkite Erik Schlopy, a three-time Olympian and new dad (the two events are not connected), and 2002 Olympic teammate Dane Spencer went 50-50 on a house in Jeremy Ranch. Spencer – who grew up in Boise, Idaho, who is recovering from a savage racing crash last Feb. 14 in which he broke his neck and his pelvis, among other injuries – expects to move to Park City around Oct. 1.

This weekend, though, Spencer is in town as part of the annual arts festival. He, Schlopy and another three-time Olympian, former World Junior slalom champion Chip Knight, are exhibiting some of their photography.

While Schlopy has been exhibiting his prints continually in one gallery or another locally, Spencer is appropriately jazzed about the festival and their opportunity to be part of it.

"It’s pretty exciting," Spencer said. "We’re finally getting things printed and they’ll be displayed and, of course, it’s good for us to get together. I haven’t seen Chip since I got hurt."

After the festival, Schlopy is expected to stay home after the festival to spend additional time with his wife, Olympic swimming gold medallist Summer Sanders, and their new daughter, Skye, while Knight and his wife will go back to Idaho with Spencer for some relaxing down time. "We’ll do some outdoor stuff ad just have a good time," Spencer said.

The fact Spencer, 28, is even vertical at this point – less than six months after his crash Feb. 14 during a NorAm downhill at Big Mountain in Montana, is on the order of over-the-moon great news. Doctors in Boise acknowledge his accelerated recovery is beyond their expectations and although he has a long way to go, he’s clearly not sitting around asking, "Why me?"

Melinda Roalstad, medical director for the U.S. Ski Team, has been in constant contact with the Boise surgery team and concedes she’s also amazed at his comeback so far.

"We’re certainly all happy with his recovery but he knows he still has some medical steps to go through and the proper channels. We’re talking about his neck and his pelvis, so when he’s cleared by [Boise Dr. Christian] Zimmerman, he’ll still have to go through our medical approval process."

Spencer understands that, but he’s taking an aggressive approach to his rehab. He hopes to be skiing in November – he still needs Zimmerman’s okay and then approval from the Ski Team medical staff – "and then we’ll see what happens."

He’s not blowing smoke up his own skirt, kidding himself that he’s just a couple of months away from full-on training and racing again.

But Spencer – one of the Ski Team’s worker bees (on a team of worker bees) – takes his signature low-key, "just give me an opportunity" approach. "Entitlement" is not his vocabulary; he has always been about simply getting the opportunity to show what he can do.

"Things are going well," he said this week as he headed to Park City. "I don’t have any complaints. In general, I’m healing more quickly than expected and I feel pretty good right now. I guess I’m getting used to my new state…

"I’ve been getting out. I went for a 12-mile hike in the mountains and I’ve been doing lot of projects on my house," he said. Spencer, who was 16th in giant slalom during the 2002 Olympics, also has competed in four World Championships and has two U.S. alpine championships as he heads into what will be his 12th season on the U.S. Ski Team.

"I’m lucky to be alive," he said after leaving a Boise Hospital last March 20. He used a walker at home, switched to crutches and a cane, and then dumped the cane May 5.

"My intense activity isn’t up to par in regards to doing really aggressive activities, the explosive or exercise-type things. But, yeah, the general overall consensus seems to be ‘How’d you get so far so fast?’

"I mean, I see some of my doctors at the hospital when I’m doing therapy and they kinda smile and have that ‘Do you know this is like a miracle?’ look on their face, like they can’t believe it, either. I don’t have anything to gauge it against. I do what I feel comfortable doing," he said, "and I know how fortunate I am to be doing it.

"I’m just doing activities, not pushing deep into my pain level – just staying active is a big part of recovery for now."

Spencer did a lot of rework in renovating his home in Boise, and he figures he’ll be slinging a hammer quite a bit at Jeremy Ranch this fall. However, he laughed when it was suggested his partnership with Schlopy meant Schlopy came up with the dough to buy the house and Spencer would put in the "sweat equity" by knocking down walls and rebuilding everything.

"It needs a lot of work," he said, "but we’re totally 50-50 on everything…everything."

In the meantime, he also has one day circled on his calendar before setting up housekeeping at Jeremy – Oct. 3 when two-time Olympian and former World Cup aerials champion Jeret "Speedy" Peterson stages a fundraising golf tournament for Spencer in Boise. (Peterson also grew up in Boise and was one of Spencer’s Olympic teammates in ’02.)

Spencer’s best-case scenario would have him on snow in Colorado – "even in a very limited way" – in November. "But we’ll have to see how everything goes. Returning to the World Cup is an absolute priority, but I want to be ready and the Ski Team, of course, wants me 100 percent healthy.

"I know I have to be very smart about how I look at that return. We’ll play it a little bit by ear and obviously hope for the best," he said.

Spencer, Schlopy and Knight will display their artwork at Celsius Lounge, located at 625 Main Street (formerly Mother Urban’s).


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