Broken Neck, Unbroken Will

Break your neck?  Don’t worry, you can still hike, road bike, paddleboard and mountain bike (but only if it’s mellow mountain biking). Ontario-born, Whistler-based skier and Helly Hansen Ambassador Matt Elliott suffered a broken neck after getting bucked over a roller and landing on his neck while out in the backcountry in Fernie, BC last winter.  He has spent this summer recovering/rehabilitating and getting amped to get back on his skis this winter.

by Matt Elliott.

My injury?  I ended up with a stable fracture in my C6 lateral mass. I also suffered what the doctor called a “stinger.” This is when your nerve gets pinched and it shoots incredible pain to wherever that nerve travels. In my case, it was the nerve that ran through my left shoulder and down my arm. The C6 and C7 got compressed on impact and pinched the nerve. At first I thought I broke my arm ’cause it hurt so much. I didn’t even realize my neck was broken.

Matt 2

All of this happened when I was racing in Fernie with some friends and I got bucked over a roller and landed on my back on the cat track below. I have never experienced anything like that skiing. The wind actually caught my skis and tossed me backwards as I was flying through the air…I guess that’s why you don’t downhill race in fat skis.  The impact knocked me out but when I came to, I was still sliding down the slope all messed up. Fernie ski patrol was there pretty quick and carted me down the mountain. From there I went to the Fernie Hospital. Once they took x-rays and figured out I had a fractured neck I was shipped to Cranbrook for further evaluation.

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Despite the diagnosis of a fractured neck, as well as the incredible amounts of pain I was in, it didn’t take me long to be happy with the injuries I had sustained, rather than the injuries that could have been. I knew it was a long road ahead of me to be fully rehabilitated, but I was fully happy with that…that rehab was a possibility.

Photo courtesy Helly Hansen.
Photo courtesy Helly Hansen.

For the first few days after the crash there wasn’t much I could do but lay down and pop painkillers. Luckily, my friend Ryan Oakden’s parents Karen and Jim looked after me and had a room where I was able to stay.

Once I made my way back to the coast via plane, my girlfriend Lesley looked after me for the next two weeks. I wasn’t able to stand for too long so it was basically reading books and laying on my back. I ended up reading some good books.

Matt and Lesley. Photo courtesy Helly Hansen.
Matt and Lesley. Photo courtesy Helly Hansen.

Immediately after my injury, I had been told to wear a neck brace for 4-6 weeks. But when I saw the specialist in Vancouver he told me to take it off as it was doing nothing but making me weak. So after only 10 days I ditched the brace! It felt so good to get rid of it, but my head felt like an orange on a toothpick. Suck a weak neck.

After 2 weeks I could start walking around for extended periods. Short dog walks and things were all I could do but I was loving it.  At one month I was riding the bike on the road a bit, just over to my buddies’ to go paddleboarding.

At that time I also started to go to the gym to work on building my shoulder back up too. With the nerve not working all my muscles around the area stopped firing. I couldn’t even lift five pounds in front of me…It was hard to see myself like this. But I continued to hit the gym, every day, and did all my little exercises the physio had given me, until I saw myself building back my strength…..10lbs, up to 15lbs, then 20lbs.

I found myself on the road bike a lot more because it’s much smoother than the trails. But I would still sneak in a mountain bike every now and then.

After 3 months I went back to work. The first few days were pretty painful, but again, just like at the gym, after a couple weeks I could really notice an improvement in my strength and range of movement.

After four months I am back to basically back to normal life as usual. Strength wise I’m at 95% of where I was before the accident and I don’t even really notice a difference.

I still have to make sure I don’t fall when I bike, and I am on a stretching routine twice a day. But all signs are pointed towards a full recovery. I am also concentrating on my cardio, and my overall strength which translates to lots of climbs on the bike, hiking, and hitting the gym after work.

I’m not out of the woods yet, but I still have a few more months before the snow flies. My goal is to shred deep pow, just like always, all winter long.

Photo courtesy Helly Hansen.
Photo courtesy Helly Hansen.

Matt Elliott grew up in New Liskeard, Ontario. A small town with a small hill, but a surprisingly big ski scene back then. A bunch of friends and Matt moved out to the mountains when they graduated high school. Working night jobs, they did what they could to ski and snowboard every day, all day. Matt has spent seasons in Lake Louise and Fernie, but has been calling Whistler his home since 2001. Skiing is Matt’s number one sport but he also enjoys surfing, mountain biking, water skiing, and, being a true Canadian, hockey. During the winters he tries to concentrate on shooting photos, and filming edits. In the future Matt hopes to keep learning new things as a skier, and a traveller of the world exploring new terrain. He is constantly in search of that next deep turn. 

Reblogged from Helly Hansen.