Near-death experience leads to World Cup win for Parkite
Colby Stevenson didn’t know if he would ski again
Park City native Colby Stevenson, a member of the U.S. Freeskiing rookie team, stood atop the men’s slopestyle course in Seiser Alm, Italy, on Jan. 28. The 19-year-old closed his eyes, took a deep breath and ran through his run in his head before dropping in.
He knew what he wanted to do. After all, this moment was one he waited for months.
After visualizing it, Stevenson sent it. He cruised through the top half of the course with relative ease, making the difficult rails look not so difficult. His jumps on the bottom half were just as clean.
He crossed the finish line with a smile on his face and when the score of an 89.20 flashed across the scoreboard, that smile got wider. The score was good enough for a first-place finish on the World Cup tour, the first of his career.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Stevenson said of winning. “Just to go out and land that run that I’ve been doing in my head for months, it was one of the best feelings, for sure. I can’t believe it. It’s surreal.”
Stevenson couldn’t help but pump his fist a few times while clenching the trophy given to him, as he stood on top of the podium as the event’s winner. Any athlete in his position would be stoked, but for Stevenson, this gold meant he conquered an obstacle many athletes never face.
In fact, Stevenson said the win was almost never meant to be.
“It’s honestly going from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs,” Stevenson said. “It’s just one of the craziest feelings. It means so much to me because I thought I didn’t have a chance. I thought my dreams were crushed. It’s honestly not the win that makes me feel happy as much as the skiing and how it felt to ski that run.”
Stevenson’s life changed on May 18, 2016, a day permanently etched in the skier’s memory.
He was driving back to Park City from Oregon with John Michael Fabrizi, his good friend. The pair just finished up skiing at Mt. Hood, where Fabrizi broke his leg. Because of this, Stevenson was forced to drive Fabrizi’s vehicle, a 2000 Ford pickup truck, the entire way back to Utah.
Stevenson was driving along Interstate 86 near Chubbuck, Idaho, about 200 miles away from Park City, when he admittedly started to get tired after being at the wheel for nearly 12 hours.
It was also nearing midnight and he fell asleep, rolling the truck about eight times. The roof of the vehicle collapsed on the duo, crushing Stevenson’s skull. He would later find out he also fractured his neck, broke four ribs and damaged his eye socket.
Stevenson was knocked out cold, while Fabrizi remained conscious. With his good friend lying unconscious next to him in his own truck, Fabrizi said he had to act quickly.
“Sometimes you’re faced with things you’re not prepared for, but you just need to act as appropriately as you can in the situation that you’re in,” Fabrizi said.
So Fabrizi, with an already-broken leg and an injured knee from the crash, climbed out the shattered truck’s window to see if he could see where they were. Luckily, his phone was still on and functioning, so he called 911 and provided their location.
He didn’t know if Stevenson would be okay.
“It was scary,” Fabrizi said. “Just hoping for the best is really what was going through my mind.”
They were transported by ground ambulance to Portneuf Medical Center. Stevenson spent three days in a medically-induced coma. Doctors weren’t sure if he’d have any lasting effects from the crash, but odds were that he would have some sort of traumatic brain injury.
When he woke up from his coma, though, Stevenson immediately recognized his parents and began talking with them. His nurses came in to perform some tests, and while he was obviously still injured, it was determined brain damage would not be an issue.
His brain swelled eight millimeters. Brain damage can be caused at nine. Stevenson said he’s in the 1 percent of people who had this type of skull fracture, but have no brain damage.
He was released from the hospital after two weeks, but getting out of that place was just the beginning for Stevenson.
Stevenson returned to his home in Park City and spent three months thinking his skiing career was over, therefore destroying his hopes, dreams and aspirations.
“I was heading off of the deep end for a bit there,” he said. “I was in such a dark place eight to nine months ago when I got wrecked. I thought I was done skiing. I didn’t think I was going to be able to compete or perform at the level that I did before the accident. I thought I was totally just done.”
But all he could do was continue to plug away at rehabbing. His mother, Carol, and his father, Bobby, helped take care of Stevenson throughout. His grandma, who was visiting following the crash, would take him for walks, which was the most exercise he could get.
“My parents definitely had a big part in getting me back,” Stevenson said. “It was a tough recovery because I lost 20 pounds. I wasn’t doing anything. I just had to work back from that.”
Four months after the crash, Stevenson, an avid biker in the non-winter months, decided to give his road bike a try. A month later, he whipped out his mountain bike.
Slowly but surely, Stevenson started to get his life back. Each passing day seemed a little brighter. When October came around, he was ready to take that next leap.
“I went to New Zealand with the U.S. Ski Team,” Stevenson said. “That was the first time I was back on skis. That was when I had a realization that I wasn’t totally done. I could still do the tricks. I was just a little weak from being all cooped up for all those months.”
After realizing he still had some skiing left in him, Stevenson didn’t want to hold back. He missed much of the World Cup season already, but that didn’t stop him from competing in Italy late in January.
He traveled to Seiser Alm with his father with the idea of just completing a run and throwing down some tricks, nothing else. After all, this was his first competition back following the incident.
“I had no expectations for it at all,” Stevenson said.
So as he stood on top of the men’s slopestyle course in Italy at the World Cup, he wasn’t focusing on all the distractions and little things that could go wrong. Instead, he thought of all of the people who showed him love in the last year and the hospitality that was shown to him.
“I kind of came into things with a different light,” Stevenson said. “I was just more thankful to be doing what I’m doing.”
He thought of his father, who retired from being a pilot so he could help take care of his son and spend time traveling with him. He thought of his mother, who took a month off of work to take care of her baby during rehab. He thought of his grandma, who kept him sane in some of his darkest moments of his life with a simple game of cards or a stroll around the block. He thought of Fabrizi, who helped save his life that fateful night. He thought of the many meals that were brought to him by members of the Park City community to his house while he was recovering.
He even thought of Sam Jackenthal, a friend he grew up rollerblading and skiing with in Park City on the Axis Freeride Ski Team before it became Team Park City United. Jackenthal passed away in 2015 due to a head injury sustained while training.
“Everyone that has a big meaning in my life,” Stevenson said when asked who he thought of. “Then I just dropped in and it came together.”
He dropped in and threw down the best run of his life, golden for the first time ever in his World Cup career. Like Stevenson said, everything came together for him in that run, and though it didn’t seem like it for a long time, his life has come back together, too.
“The biggest thing for me was you’ve just got to see the bright side of things,” Stevenson said. “You’ve got to know that it’s going to get better.”
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