What Are You Whining About?
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Outside magazine, June 1995
What Are You Whining About?
Enough with the war stories about your scrapes and tweaks. Meet the people who really give it all to their sport–again and again and again.
So, you’ve taken a bad spill on your new in-line skates, and you’ve got a long, crusty ribbon of road rash to prove it. Or you’ve just returned from a ten-day Grand Canyon hike with an oozing case of trench foot, but you’re determined to smile through the torment and show up for that Saturday morning fun run. Ouch! Clearly, you have experienced agony, a term that Webster’s defines as “extreme pain of mind or body; anguish; torture.”
What you probably haven’t experienced, and we hope you never will, is the other definition of agony: “the struggle that precedes death.” Has Mother Nature disrupted your rock climb by whimsically raining boulders on your head? Has a finned beast with Dorito-shaped teeth added a new dimension to your afternoon snorkel by using you as a chew toy?
The plucky outdoorspeople celebrated here have not only experienced this level of agony–they’ve come back for more. Some of their biographies involve ghastly, one-shot bang-ups that would send lesser mortals to the couch forever. Others are ongoing sagas of crash, grind, and groan that make Job’s travails look like a mild case of diaper rash. Their stories both amaze and
In fact, the next time you find yourself yanking up a pants leg to show your office mates the scar from that “gnarly” mountain-bike wreck, remember these names. Then take a long, deep breath, limp back to your desk, and hush up.
“I guess I blew everyone’s mind in that clinic,” recalls Katie Kemble with a grin. Yeah, probably. Six years ago, Kemble, a diminutive climber with a feathery voice, came bursting through the doors of the Telluride Medical Center, barking orders to nurses for IV needles and a blood-pressure gauge. Not especially amazing feats, except that Kemble was holding her own left leg,
For Kemble, a 40-year-old critical care nurse from Aspen, Colorado, the nightmare began late on the afternoon of May 27, 1989, when she and her climbing partner, Ric Hatch, were making their last pitch of the day on Ophir Wall, a tricky granite face near Telluride. A rock slide started about 800 feet above Hatch, and though he shouted a warning, it was too late;
Kemble’s first reaction was, “Oooh, this is not good.” But, as she quickly noticed, a tourniquet wouldn’t be necessary: As sometimes happens in cases of severe trauma, the leg’s major arteries closed up. Never losing consciousness, she clutched the severed leg in her left hand as Hatch gamely hauled her across a boulder-strewn field. Forty minutes later, he loaded her into a
There, Kemble started kibitzing about her treatment and didn’t stop until a helicopter whisked her off to a hospital in Grand Junction. Before going under the surgeon’s knife, she made her final recommendation: that the doctors please keep the amputation below the knee. Fortunately, they had more ambitious ideas; after several hours of work, the surgeons successfully reattached
Following years of physical therapy and over a dozen operations, Kemble is back at it: biking, telemarking, sea kayaking, and climbing. Last month, in fact, she was on her way to tackle Yosemite. “I’m not as worried about my leg as my arm strength,” she said. “I’m worried about getting my ass off the ground.”
Great white sharks, unfortunately, tend to hang out where Rodney Orr does: the kelp beds off California’s northern coast, where the 54-year-old free-diver carries on his relentless search for abalone. “They say your chances of being attacked by a great white are 14 million to one,” Orr says in a blasé monotone. “It’s like winning the lottery. I’ve ‘won’ twice.”
Orr’s curse may be his inexhaustible fixation on the sea. Almost every weekend for the past 35 years, the gray-haired, barrel-chested diver has paddled his 19-foot dive board off the coast near his hometown of Santa Rosa, tied off to a stalk of kelp, and then gone down with mask, fins, and iron bar to pry the tasty mollusks from the rocks. “I rate about third with Rod,” says
Orr pooh-poohs the first of his two attacks, which occurred in 1961 about 25 feet down in Tomales Bay. “It was nothing, really,” he says, meaning no disrespect for the 12-foot great white that swooped in and chomped him in the breadbasket. Luckily, Orr’s weight belt prevented the shark from gutting him. As the monster swam away, Orr bolted to the surface and rowed home with
He didn’t get off quite so easy on September 8, 1990. That day, as he floated on the surface preparing to dive, something jolted his head. “I heard this crunch, and then it got dark,” he says. “I thought a boat had hit me. Then I reached up and felt a head the size of a dinner table. I knew what it was.” An 18-foot great white had taken Orr’s head in its mouth. Keeping a firm,
With his cheekbone protruding, half his nose dangling, and his right side paralyzed from the lacerations, Orr somehow managed to paddle to shore, where the sight of him–“I was a sheet of blood emerging from the ocean”–made sunbathers shriek in horror. Despite receiving 60 stitches in his neck and head, Orr reported to his electrician’s job the next Monday and was diving again
Half man, half stainless steel, Steve Sheridan has never let a little bone-shattering mishap keep him off the slopes. Known to his pals as the General, the 42-year-old co-owner of Performance Sports in Vail, Colorado, has broken 20 bones and received three plates, six pins, and 22 screws in 35 years of skiing. “I probably have the largest stack of X rays of anyone in Vail
Of course, lots of skiers hurt themselves–that part’s easy. What defines Sheridan as Sisyphus-in-a-cast is his heroic resilience after a lifetime of mishaps that has enshrined his very name in the medical lexicon. “I use a scale of zero to ten to measure the severity of knee fractures,” says Dr. Peter Janes, Sheridan’s orthopedic surgeon. “Steve Sheridan is the ten. In fact, I
Obvious question: Is Sheridan a lousy skier, a clown on slats? Nope. He’s a first-rate amateur downhiller who was once hired to test the runs at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail. But his friends agree that Sheridan’s tragicomic flaw is that he’s really happy only when barreling down the toughest terrain–double black-diamonds on Vail’s back bowls, mostly–and that he
In 1976, for example, Sheridan finished a run after a spill thrust a ski tail into his face and pulverized his cheekbone. The following year, after smashing his collarbone, he skied the rest of the season with one pole and a shoulder brace. His nearest near-death experience occurred in 1978 during an annual Vail medley relay called the Great Race, a “multidiscipline” team
In 1991, Sheridan took a tumble that shattered his tibia, fibula, and knee into 50 pieces. Unbowed, he returned from rehab in late 1994, promising himself that things would be different. Alas, they weren’t. In a spill last February, he snapped his left leg cleanly below the knee. Even so, talking as if he were living a bad country song, he vows to press on. “If it wasn’t for
Steve Tilford has suffered big in both of cycling’s main arenas. As a top amateur and professional road racer from 1975 to 1990, he broke 14 bones, sustained what he claims were “dozens” of concussions, collected acres of scabs, and in 1985 was nearly killed in a collision with an automobile during a race. Now, as a professional mountain biker, the 35-year-old Tilford has,
Tilford realized the need for self-doctoring after a 1993 World Cup mountain-bike race at Hunter Mountain, New York. On one particularly hairy descent, he hit a tree root and somersaulted over his handlebars, flying 45 feet down the mountain into a pile of rubble. He ripped open an elbow, shattered his helmet, slashed his forehead, and suffered a concussion. After retrieving
Now, after particularly bad spills, Tilford cleans his wounds, injects them with a local anesthetic, pulls out a sterilized needle and sutures, and starts making like Betsy Ross. Although he’s offered his services free of charge to other racers, no one will come near when he waggles his needle. “It’s really not that big a deal,” he insists. “It’s like cutting butter. My one
On February 6, 1994, Sergeant First Class Dana Bowman, A member of a U.S. Army parachute team known as the Golden Knights, was practicing a maneuver called “the diamond track” over Yuma, Arizona. The precision dive called for Bowman and his partner, Jose Aguillon, to jump simultaneously at 12,500 feet and float a mile apart before switching directions and then flying toward
The partners jumped and split apart. Then Bowman made a pinpoint turn, pulled his arms to his sides, and started hurtling toward Aguillon head-first at an estimated speed of 150 miles per hour. But instead of the planned near miss, the two men slammed into each other. Aguillon died almost instantly. Bowman’s legs were ripped from his body–one above the knee and one below, with
Only six days later, Bowman–a muscular Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based Green Beret who apparently has little patience for lollygagging–was loudly demanding his release so that he could attend Aguillon’s funeral. After two months, when infection had not cleared from his left leg, he ordered reluctant doctors to remove two additional inches so that he could get on with his
He then spent 17 frustrating weeks fumbling through eight subpar knee sockets and several pairs of ill-fitting prosthetic legs at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before visiting an artificial-limb expert in New York. There, Bowman secured a cutting-edge pair of shock-absorberlike legs and several “high-speed flex feet” made of lightweight carbon fiber.
Today, the 32-year-old Bowman, whose medical bills totaled $250,000, is diving with the team again. He can also switch to different pairs of feet to run, bike, ski, and dance. “I really like to two-step,” he says, “so I have a pair that fit into my cowboy boots.”
Paul Kvinta, a frequent contributor to Outside, was once nipped on the ear by a chameleon during a Boy Scout camping trip.