If you consider plummeting from the sky and hitting rock at more than 100 kph a lucky thing, then welcome to Karina Hollekim’s world. The Norwegian professional freeskier, BASE and ski BASE jumper is currently on tour around the US as part of The North Face Speaker series, where during a riveting talk, she offers a glimpse into that world.
Hollekim, who stopped off here in Jackson, WY, last Thursday to speak, looks fit and athletic. She doesn’t appear at all like someone who heard from doctors that she would never walk, much less ski, again. Although it has been a long, tough road, she talks without a hint of bitterness or anger about her inspiring tale of having it all, losing it all, and making a comeback based on almost nothing besides pure determination.
When she suffered a chute-malfunction (which she shows terrifying headcam footage of) and plummeted into the ground during a routine skydiving demonstration in Switzerland four years ago, it wasn’t walking that was the question, it was mere survival. Smashing into rock and suffering 21 open, splintered fractures in one femur and four breaks in the other, Hollekim nearly bled to death before the helicopter could get her to the hospital.
Over 3.5 years, she first walked, and then last spring Hollekim made headlines again in the ski world, getting back on her skis and skiing some Norwegian powder.
While flipping between awesome images of skiing, base-jumping and ski-base, and the occasional x-ray of 2 femurs riddled with nails and screws that look like a child’s construction project gone severely wrong, Hollekim tells the audience softly, but sternly that she doesn’t regret any of it, ever. "I'm alive, I am not sorry for even one jump, not even my accident," she says.
Brushing off her physicians’ predictions, she painstakingly made her way back. Despite enduring nearly two dozen surgeries, wheelchairs, pain and misery, Hollekim isn’t one to wallow in self-pity, although she does tell us there were more than a few days of crying. Not too bad, for someone who’s life, livelihood, passion and mobility have all come to screeching halt.
“When are you really badly injured, you set a different perspective,” Hollekim explains to me after her talk. “I didn’t really ever believe the doctors that I wouldn’t walk again. I made little goals for myself each day, and I forgot about the future. It was one day at a time, but then finally the future was there. And I proved them wrong-doctors cannot tell the future.” She smiles a brilliant and very pleased smile.
A return to base-jumping or ski base probably isn’t in the cards-the impact might be too much for her patched bones. “And I am a little scared,” Hollekim admits. “It is different now.” However when I ask her what she has planned for this winter, she beams. “I’m going to ski-a lot!” she exclaims. “I’ve been fighting for four years now. I just want to enjoy it.”
Hollekim speaks next in Santa Fe, NM on Oct 27th, and the full schedule can be found on the North Face site.