The race to recovery
September 8, 2009
Cody Marshall isn’t giving up. Ask the 26-year-old ski racer what his plans are this year and he’ll say "to get back on the snow."
Two months ago that seemed impossible. The U.S. Ski Team athlete is finally home after suffering severe head trauma when he fell over 20 feet from an out-of-order escalator at the Main Street Mall on July 15.
His mom, Barb Marshall, who lives in Vermont, remembers getting that first phone call a little after 4:30 a.m. Her son had been rushed to the University hospital and was already in surgery.
"It was unbelievable," she said. "That first couple of days, we were so grief-stricken. We couldn’t really do anything but talk to him, touch him. We didn’t even talk to each other. It was all about Cody."
Barb Marshall said the family never left his side. His younger sister, Chelsea, sat next to her brother in the hospital for four days before stepping outside for even a few minutes of fresh air.
The rest of the family, his dad and two brothers, took turns staying at the hospital. Family-friend Draven Gagnon has also been a constant companion, taking care of Cody when family members had to return to work.
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Older brother Jesse said those first few weeks after the accident were especially difficult for the family. Cody was in a coma and doctors didn’t know if he would come out of it. There was also a fear that he would awake with amnesia, Jesse said.
He described those the first weeks as going "minute by minute" and slowly it turned into "hour by hour" as Cody’s recovery began to exceed everyone’s expectations. The family was told he probably wouldn’t recognize anyone at first, but he did. They were told he wouldn’t be able to talk, but "all of a sudden, he just started talking," Barb said.
Cody was determined to get better, and was often yelled at by the nurses for trying to do too much. The nurses firmly reminded him of the dangers when he wouldn’t wear the helmet designed to protect his brain after a portion of his skull had to be surgically removed.
"I got yelled at every day," he said with smile.
He said "step by step, day by day," he grew stronger with the help of family, friends and a team of doctors and nurses.
"It’s been a fight," he said. "You just have to look at the little progresses you’ve made and get excited by that. I can’t just go back to the gym like I used to."
Most of all, Cody longs to resume training for the U.S. Ski Team.
"I definitely love being on the team," he said. "It’s amazing for me, being able to compete with the best skiers in the world. It’s a passion for me."
But for now, he has to follow a strict schedule that includes three rest periods each day. Friends must schedule a block of time before they are allowed to stop by. A sign on his front door reads: "If you have not called to see Cody, do not ring doorbell!"
Gagnon, who is taking care of Cody in a Park City condo that Gagnon owns with Jesse, creates a daily schedule to prevent Cody from overdoing it in the first few months back home. The schedule will ensure he gets his needed.
Soon he hopes to resume training with the Ski Team.
"There was a lot of training with the Ski Team just to get in good physical shape," Cody Marshall said. "Two workouts a day, strength training and all kinds of sports for cross-training. We did a lot of other stuff like soccer and volleyball. We’re all terrible at basketball though."
Not being able to train with the team has been mentally challenging he said, and he is anxious to get back on the snow this winter.
However, Jesse said he’s still adjusting to being able to plan that far ahead.
"Throughout this whole process, it’s been so day by day," he said. "He’s put back together, now we can start planning months out. Our long-term expectations: Cody doing what he loves to do ski racing and continuing with life."
To add to the emotional stress, the family has been struggling financially. The Marshalls live in Vermont and California, and have struggled coming up with the funds to continue to fly to Utah every few weeks as they have been.
"Everyone’s airline tickets were $4,000 just in the first month," Gagnon said. "And any time the family’s out here, they’re taking time off work."
To help offset costs, Gagnon decided to hold a fundraiser. He said Cody loves live music and he wanted to hold a fundraiser Cody would enjoy.
"(I wanted to do) something he loves since we can’t all be on the mountain," Gagnon said.
Gagnon is trying to book two major headliners for a benefit concert close to Halloween.
Gagnon said he is also planning a silent auction where they will auction off the helmet Cody wore in the hospital. The family is still selling T-shirts and accepting donations on the site http://www.thinkcody.com. Anyone who would like to donate or participate in the fundraiser may contact Gagnon by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.