Juneau Para Alpine Skier Joe Tompkins is recovering in a German hospital after suffering multiple injuries after crashing during a training run last Thursday, one day before his scheduled race in the sit-skiing downhill in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at Sochi, Russia.
“I am doing fair, struggling a little bit,” Tompkins said from his hospital room Sunday.
Tompkins’ injuries included a broken hip, femur and rib and required multiple surgeries on Monday.
“A little better,” Tompkins stated in a message Wednesday morning.
Tompkins trained and qualified for the 2014 Paralympics with his vaunted “Go big or go home” mantra and, unfortunately, snow conditions did not support his intense style of skiing.
Tompkins crashed on the second of three training runs.
“On the first training run I messed up on the upper portion of the course,” Tompkins said. “But down below I won by, like, two seconds. I wanted to clean that up on top a bit and still do what I did on the bottom. I was going for it on a ski race.”
Tompkins’ crash came near the seventh gate on one of the steepest parts of the downhill at an estimated speed of 60 miles per hour. There was no safety netting along this stretch, used as an exit into a large bowl area.
“The conditions were not ideal,” Tompkins said. “When you do a turn and the snow gives way at that speed, it is not good. You are trying to keep in the course, keep the balance and still stay ahead of what you are doing. And during the course of the crash I picked up more speed. It was ass over teakettle.”
The snow was a mixture of spring fallings and man-made with salt added to condense it to favorable texture.
“I would rather be on real snow,” Tompkins said. “This was a mixture of man-made and melted snow, ice and stuff like that.”
Tompkins said that during the crash his hip straps and leg straps came undone, but his foot straps did not. This turned the mono-ski into a 70-pound steel weapon.
“That was kind of odd,” Tompkins said. “The ski wanted to go one way and my body the other.”
The crash went along a distance of 50-60 yards, off an edge and into the bowl.
“I was conscious the whole time,” Tompkins said. “I knew something was wrong with my leg, hip and ribs, and there was something to do with my lungs.”
Tompkins stated he still wanted to work his way back into the ski and finish the run.
“I didn’t want to be carted down,” Tompkins said.
Tompkins was stabilized and taken down the course to a helicopter and flown to a waiting ambulance and driven to a Russian hospital near Sochi.
After two days the United States Olympic Committee had Tompkins transported to another hospital in Germany.
“Adrenaline took over for a long time,” Tompkins said. “Then I got to the hospital and I really started to feel the pain. Yeah I am paralyzed but I still have good feeling in my hips and this hurt.”
The first issues addressed in surgery were a broken femur and broken hip and resulted in a hip replacement procedure on Tuesday.
Tompkins also badly injured his knee and suffered an undetermined rib and lung injury.
“I can breathe okay,” Tompkins said before his surgery Monday. “They don’t know what is wrong with my lungs but I am coughing up some blood and that is not cool.”
Tompkins stated he will be in the hospital for at least 10 days if all goes well and passed this message on to his fans and well-wishers:
“Thank you for your support and thank you for your concern and prayers,” Tompkins said. “I am going to pick up finger painting now so I don’t have to worry about any more crashes. I might get back to skiing but no more racing.”
Only 12 of the 22 sitting-downhill racers finished the course.
“The downhill has the least amount of people competing,” Tompkins said. “People don’t want to do it.”
Teammate Andrew Kurka, 21, a Gold Medal favorite from Palmer crashed the day before, breaking his back.
“Launched a jump in the training run breaking my back,” Kurka said via Twitter.
Teammate Tyler Walker, of Aspen Colo., crashed two days later, tumbling several times and laying motionless before medical staff rushed to his side. He was stabilized at a Russian hospital with a severe concussion.
“I’m Ok!” Walker posted on his Facebook page. “I don’t remember crashing but I didn’t break anything. I totally got a ride in a Russian helicopter, though!”
Tompkins plans to return to Juneau and prepare for baseball season as a coach with Thunder Mountain High School.
Fans and well-wishers can send messages to firstname.lastname@example.org.