Guest blog by Chris Rand, Thedacare Half Marathon participant
My name is Chris Rand and I was told I would never walk again after falling more than 75 feet off of a cliff. Now, just one year later, I will be running the ThedaCare Half Marathon.
Back in 2020, my wife and I set a goal to visit all 48 Wisconsin State Parks. Little did I know my life would change forever during a visit to Wildcat Mountain State Park in August.
We made it to the park late on a Friday night. One of the focal features of this park is an observation point where you can see the stars. I wanted to go and check it out, but my wife was tired and wanted to go to bed so I decided to see it myself. I made my way to the observation point and once I got there, I decided to lay down to take in the whole view of the sky. It was a perfect night for stargazing and eventually, I dozed off.
When I woke up it was still dark and so I decided to head back. When I went to take a step into what I thought was the woods, I instead stepped into the dark and dropped down for what felt like forever. I had stepped off the cliff and fell about 75 to 100 feet down below. There was a brief moment of weightlessness before I crashed into the earth.
I tried turning around and getting up, but it felt impossible. If you’ve ever had the wind knocked out of you, you may understand that feeling of your body not feeling the way it’s supposed to.
Of everything that I could have thought of, the first thought that crossed my mind was just how mad my wife was going to be. I knew I needed to get help and let her know where I was, but I was struggling. My phone and water bottle were still up at the observation point. I was trying to look around to see if there was anyone nearby, but it was pitch black. I had no idea where to go and then I saw a light. They were headlights so I knew there must be a road up ahead. I started to crawl to the road.
My body was not working the way it was supposed to. I was struggling with getting my body to respond and do what I needed it to do. I was grabbing ahold of whatever I could get to pull myself through the woods and I even lost my wedding band in the process, but eventually, I made it.
Once I made it to the road, I was able to get upright and walk, a very slow walk, about a mile to a house. I can’t imagine what I looked like to these folks when they answered their door. I told them I needed help and then I think the adrenaline in my body wore off and I just collapsed.
Thankfully, the homeowner called for help and an ambulance came and got me to a hospital. Once at the hospital, doctors were able to stabilize me. They said if I had laid there instead of scrapping my way out of the woods, I likely would’ve died. I was then transferred via ambulance to a hospital with a trauma center.
I had multiple broken vertebrae and ribs. I was in really bad shape. A deputy tracked down my wife and told her what had happened and she met me at the hospital. They began preparing her for the worst.
Unfortunately for me and I guess many others, that weekend was a busy weekend for injuries, so it took about three days before I could get in and have the corrective surgeries that need to be done before I could begin healing. I remember that while I was in the hospital, I would lose sensation in my hands and feet periodically. It was a scary time.
During those days waiting before surgery, nurses said I may never be able to ever walk again. I could end up needing assistance for the rest of my life or needing to live in a home. It was a very difficult time knowing how uncertain my future was.
In surgery, the doctors ended up fusing five of my vertebrae. They decided not to do surgery on my neck because of the risks so I ended up wearing a mobilizing neck brace for several months instead. It was challenging, but it was just the first step towards healing and learning what my body would be capable of moving forward.
My doctors told me the best thing I could do is to relearn to walk and walk often. So, I began doing whatever I could to get moving. It was painstakingly slow and the work took a lot out of me. I first started with a walker and while it was exhausting, it felt promising to be able to take small steps.
October rolled around and the National Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin was turning 40 years old. They had a challenge called the Mammoth Ice Age Pass Hike. Anyone who hiked 40 miles on the trail during October would get one of these passes. As a goal-oriented person, I was determined to make this the start of my comeback. I was going to walk the miles on the trail.
I had a friend who would pick me up and we would go and hike on the trail. At first, it was very small stretches. I could walk about a quarter of a mile with a walker. After every trip, I would have to take a few days off because it was so taxing on my body, but I eventually got better and stronger. The first week I used my walker and eventually upgraded to a cane. I began walking longer distances and worked my way to walk stretches of six to seven miles a day. I swapped out the cane for some walking poles and completed walking the 40 miles by the end of October to get my pass.
I was thrilled by this. My doctors told me that if I would walk again, it would take maybe 18 months before I would be fully healed. There I was already walking 40 miles just a couple of weeks later.
I continued my training into the winter months with a membership at the YMCA. I needed a lot of basic strength training because my core strength was non-existent since the fall. I used the winter months to focus on that.
Then I hired a running trainer who helped me train and run a 5k down in Fond du Lac. He was used to training ultra-marathon runners, but he said he was inspired by my story, so he took me on. That was when I set my sights on something higher. I decided I would run the ThedaCare Half Marathon in September 2021, a little more than a year after my fall.
Running this race will check a box for me on my journey to recovery. I set a goal and I will accomplish it. My wife and my family have been so supportive through all of this, and I can’t help but think about the example I am setting for my two sons, Clark and Louis. They are at the age where they are more mature, but they still have a lot of learning to do. I hope that by watching me go through this journey they understand that life gets messy. I hope they learn about the importance of hard work and having a good attitude. Having those two things can get you through anything in life.
We can all set a goal and accomplish it. My wife and I only need to visit 12 more state parks and we’ll have checked that box. Running the ThedaCare Half Marathon is another box I am looking forward to checking.
I am so lucky to have my friends and family through this. I’ll never be the same person I was before that night in August 2020, but I am stronger today and I hope my boys and my wife know how much I love them for all of their love and support. I’ll be thinking of them when I cross that finish line.