Breckenridge Skate Park to host skate contest fundraiser Saturday for injured resident
Street, bowl and snake-run contests to raise money for paralyzed local snowboard coach Chris Waker
Before a snowboard accident in December 2020 left Chris Waker with a life-altering neck injury, the Breckenridge Skate Park was the local snowboard coach’s off-snow sanctuary.
To Waker, the park was a place where he could escape from the world’s distractions. When skating, he entered a flow state, no matter what he was riding.
“He was an all-terrain vehicle, in a way,” Will Rivera, Waker’s close friend, said about Waker’s skateboarding. “He’d skate every feature — from street to bowl to snake run. He was a very good skateboarder and was just part of the community. He would just be there, randomly.”
On Saturday, Sept. 18, at the Breckenridge Skate Park, Waker will get the chance to hang out with friends he hasn’t seen since he suffered a neck injury while riding at Copper Mountain Resort last Christmas Eve, breaking the C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae in his neck. Saturday’s fundraising event, dubbed “Skate for Wake,” is slated to feature a street contest, a bowl jam and a snake run for multiple divisions from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event will also feature skate, ski and snowboard prizes and giveaways as well as a silent auction to raise money for Waker as he progresses little by little to bounce back from an injury that has left him with limited mobility beneath his neck.
“It’s cool to get the skate industry together and share a passion that’s helped me through my whole life,” Waker said.
Saturday’s event came together thanks to the cooperation of the town of Breckenridge. With Waker’s blessing, local skateboard coach Rivera asked Steven Rosenthal, the town’s skate park official, if they could work together on the fundraising event.
With the town — as well as local emcees and sponsors — on board, the fundraiser came to be at the same site where Waker has conducted much of his recovery: the Breckenridge Recreation Center. That includes strength work and physical therapy three days a week with Josh Jones of Avalanche Physical Therapy.
Waker’s wife, Darien, said he has made incredible progress thanks to one small milestone after the next in regaining his strength. She said he’s brought an athlete’s commitment to his recovery, staying busy all summer with whatever he can do to get better. That included receiving a clinical-trial treatment of stem cells a month ago from the Mayo Clinic.
“The first year to two years is pretty critical in trying to get as much back, so my goal is to hit physical therapy super hard my first two years and see where I can get to,” Waker said.
At the core of Waker’s physical recovery has been his time at CrossFit Breckenridge, where he and Darien worked out before the accident. There, the gym’s owner, Dan Messinger, has trained Waker in a one-on-one fashion after he and Waker consulted adaptive athlete Kevin Ogar.
Ogar, who runs CrossFit WatchTower in Englewood, collaborated on ideas for Messinger to train Waker. The weekly gains with specially designed equipment and weights are enabling Waker to take giant leaps forward, whether that be working his way up to driving a side-by-side, all-terrain vehicle with adaptive controls or being able to use his triceps and raise his arms much higher than he could earlier this year. In fact, Waker set a new personal record this week of hoisting 20 pounds overhead. The development encourages him, as it’s a sign his triceps are recovering, which is a sign his C7 vertebra, which controls the neural messaging system, may be improving.
“Four months ago, he was not even able to wave at someone,” Darien said. “Now he’s able to keep his arms high up and elevated. And he’s just being a little more independent with getting around town. He’s stronger pushing a wheelchair and trying to be independent.”
Wherever Waker’s recovery takes him, the local community is there to support him. It was John George, owner of Mountain Wave in Breckenridge, that donated the adaptive steering device that Waker uses to drive an ATV. It’s the first time since the accident that Waker has been able to return to something similar to the mountain sports he loves, like dirt biking, snowmobiling and mountain biking. And thanks to the device, he’s able to drive despite limited mobility in his fingers, as it’s designed to have drivers orient it with natural-reflex wrist function.
As for Saturday, Rivera said he and Waker think it will not only be a great community fundraiser but also a good showcase of local skateboarding.
“I know people are going to show up from all sorts of places,” Rivera said. “Chris has some old friends — pro snowboarders and skateboarders — so he does have a very big reach there. And I know that he just wants to bring people together.”
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