Nightmare on the hill
DENVER – Just as Brammer Long asked if his son was alive, the phone went dead.The call had come from his son’s coach about 8:30 a.m., an hour after they arrived at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area for race training. All Brammer knew was that “it was bad, really bad,” he said. And it was between five and seven minutes before he was able to get back in touch with the Ontario ski team coach.”It’s a parent’s worst nightmare when you get that call from a coach,” Brammer said.His son, Richard Long, 15, a world-class skier from Collingwood, Canada, who was the Canadian K2 and Whistler Cup Champion last year, suffered serious brain injuries Nov. 12 after hitting a tree at about 40 to 50 mph.”He was at the edge of life and death,” his dad said.For two weeks he remained in a coma before slowly starting to come out of it. Now, he can walk with assistance, but he still has trouble communicating and processing. And amazingly, the prognosis looks good. Doctors are hopeful that Richard will make a full recovery and possibly regain the status he earned in recent years, making his name known in the junior ski circuit. According to The Barrie Examiner in Ontario, his ambition was to ski in the Olympics and make it a career if possible.”Skiing is his life,” Brammer said. “He absolutely loves it. … It is his hope and our hope that he will ski again.”Earlier this week, Richard, who spent 23 days at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver, was airlifted to a high-end neurorehabilitation facility in Toronto where he will be an inpatient for the next two months. Following that, he has 18 to 24 months of rehabilitation ahead, his dad said.”He’s got to recover mentally now,” Brammer said.For the Longs, skiing is life. Richard has been skiing since he was 2 years old and competing since he was 4. He competes in slalom, giant slalom and super-giant slalom. His dad is a ski coach, and at the time of the accident, he was working with Richard’s brother, Braden Long, 18, at Copper Mountain.”We live it 365 days a year,” Brammer said. In the summer, the boys train in the southern hemisphere and in November Colorado is the training spot of choice because of the snow, he added.That day at A-Basin changed everything. Brammer and his wife, Lisa, who was in Canada at the time of the accident, stayed in Denver while Richard was in the hospital. His brother, Braden, was also there for a couple weeks before returning to ski training and visiting every chance he got.”We went through some pretty dark days,” Brammer said, adding that the supportive messages from all over the world have helped.During a press conference Tuesday afternoon at St. Anthony Central, Dr. Stewart Levy, a neurosurgeon, said Richard would not have survived if he had not been wearing a helmet, according to a story by 9News. Helmets reduce the risk of death in a ski accident by 80 percent and lower the risk of brain injury by 65 to 70 percent, he added.And while Richard is facing some communication barriers due to his injuries, he understood what was going on during the press conference, his family said. He smiled while the cameras clicked away and as Levy talked about his injuries, he agreed and pointed to his shattered helmet.”The nurses have been absolutely amazed by his recovery,” his dad said, adding that it is probably because of his age and the physical condition he is in being a top-level athlete.Lory Pounder can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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