Response to Will Gadd

Jan Ottobre - Changing The Odds

When I first read Will’s article, I was a little surprised at its disheartening tone. It definitely raises some tough questions to which there are no easy answers.

I am a professional snowmobile racer and have been an extreme mountain rider for over 15 years. My husband Tony and I had been married for just two years when Tony had an extremely severe accident while snowmobiling. When Tony wrecked, he fractured his skull, damaged his brain stem and had a massive brain injury. He was in a coma for ten days and after he finally woke up, had months and months of recovery.

I remember sitting in the snow with his head in my lap while he bled out of his ears, waiting for almost two hours for the Search and Rescue helicopter to get to us. I remember when he finally woke up and didn’t know who I was. I remember thinking “what am I doing?” “What are we thinking, doing such an extreme mountain sport?” I spent some time afterwards trying to justify to my family why we love snowmachining in the mountains. I told my dad “well, you can get killed in a car crash or just crossing the street” In response, my dad told me . . . “yeah, but what you do, you’re changing the odds just a little.”

Tony was in rehab for six months. I didn’t get on a snowmachine again until the end of the season. I was sick to my stomach every time I thought about going riding. How do you “get back on the horse” after something like that happens, and why would you want to? I too have lost loved ones in the mountains, and lived through Tony’s near-death experience and his recovery. It was Tony who, from the couch, finally convinced me to go riding again. He said “You can’t predict when something like this might happen, but you can’t sit home instead just to be sure. That’s not who you are.”

The lyrics from an old Garth Brooks song, The Dance, say it well:

“And now I’m glad I didn’t know

the way it all would end, the way it all would go.

Our lives are better left to chance.

I could have missed the pain,

but I’d of had to miss the dance.”

Since Tony’s accident we have continued to be extreme mountain riders. We are teaching our children to be backcountry riders. We are also teaching our children to respect the mountains, to learn the different snow conditions and how to use their avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels. I have learned and also teach my kids that it is just as important to be strong and durable. The training that a mountain athlete does in the off-season is probably one of the most important aspects of being an extreme mountain athlete. It is dangerous in the mountains and the mountain sports we all participate in are risky, there is no doubt about it. But oh man, when you’re on top of something where only a few strong, capable, worthy souls have been, it’s unbelievably amazing. I completely empathize with Will’s thoughts in his article – I’ve been there. There will always be risks in mountain sports . . . but what a gift we are given to live in the mountains, and to have the strength of mind to respect the mountains, the strength of body to endure the mountains, and the strength of heart to, in spite of the risks, love and appreciate everything about them.

Jan Ottobre

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