A Pain in the Neck…Literally.
“You’re telling me that man broke my neck with a pool stick?!” I asked as the doctor showed me the x-ray of my fractured Spinous Process “floating” off my T1 vertebrae.
“Unfortunately, that seems to be the case,” the doctor regretfully went on to explain…
My first thought was that I wouldn’t be able to race that upcoming winter. I am an amputee ski racer and had just come off a Paralympic year in Sochi where I was just shy of qualifying for the US Ski Team. Although I hadn’t qualified, I was still more determined than ever as I had just learn to ski three short years earlier.
I was born with a condition where my right leg was underdeveloped, so they had to amputate when I was 2. I had a very normal childhood though and grew up playing all kinds of sports including football, basketball, rowing in college climbing, etc…however, I never skied until I was 25 when good friend and now teammate, Alana Nichols, introduced me to skiing and literally changed my whole life. Skiing gave me purpose. I was stoked. Violence, however, almost stole it away.
It was summer of 2014. I was working in Denver as a bartender to scrape up enough to pay for my season’s annual dues. I had bartended and managed restaurants for years prior to finding ski racing and was fairly successful at that, but as soon as I had discovered adaptive sports and the Paralympics, my full focus turned to ski racing as I believed I could compete in athletics again, not just for fun, but against the most fierce athletes in the world at the highest level of competition. I was in the best shape of my life and had no intention of slowing down. I felt like a super hero.
That was until a Saturday night in late June night when I went to work. It was the middle of my shift, about 11pm, when a group of suspicious looking people (about 7 of them) came in to the bar and were visibly intoxicated. I was taking a break, sitting at the bar eating a late dinner as we had been busy, when my co-worker came up to me in a panic as the group had gotten disgruntled that we wouldn’t serve them any alcohol. The “leader” of the group came over to me (behind the bar) to argue about the dilemma and I politely asked them to leave. The next moment, I felt a shoulder in my back as one of the men in the group tackled us. They started hitting us with whatever they had; belt buckles, pool sticks, fists, purses, bar stools, you name it…
We scrambled up to our feet and fell down again as the floor had gotten saturated with broken beer bottles and was extremely slippery. I managed to finally get up and, dodging blows, I started running outside, cell phone in hand with the police, and as I passed through the front door, I felt a huge slap in my neck. The pain was intense but I was still on my feet. I clenched my fist around my phone and turned around to see a middle-aged man holding a pool cue with an evil look in his eyes. I was so shocked that it was someone who was easily old enough to be my father that I didn’t swing. I wanted to but I just stood there for what felt like minutes but it was probably just a second or two, looking at him. I could hear sirens coming up the street and I as I turned to look for my co-worker Donivan, I saw him dive at the man’s feet as he was trying to run away from the police. The man’s shoe came off in Donivan’s hands and he ran, cowardly, off into the parking lot and jumped into their truck that was already escaping. I tried to get a glimpse of the license plate but it was too late. The cops screeched up to the front door and got out and chased one of the men on foot. He got sent off to jail but was released the next day for some sketchy reason. The paramedics showed up shortly after the police that night, examined my neck, and said that they didn’t see anything besides probably just a bruise and I actually went back to work and shockingly finished my shift until 3am.
The next day however, it was extremely painful and I couldn’t bare it any longer, I left work and called the Workman’s Comp doctor and of course, they were closed. I didn’t get in to see someone until 2 days later where I learned that he had fractured my neck. What may be even more shocking is that they put me in a neck brace, AND SENT ME BACK TO WORK! After one day, I wasn’t having it anymore as I had tripped several times trying to maneuver without being able to see the ground in front of me. A bar is not a place for a one legged man to blindly navigate around with a fractured neck, but that’s only my humble opinion.
The police only caught one of them that night and afterwards, not only were they of no assistance, they were actually quite rude. One detective stated and I quote “Well what do you want us to do? We can’t just go around breaking fingers for information.”
Well you could start with their necks! I thought to myself.
After 3 months frustration of dealing with by far the worst doctors and facilities I have ever seen, they sent me back to work with weight restrictions and I started a PT regimen. It wasn’t even a month later, right before Thanksgiving, that I learned that the same group came back into the bar looking to “talk with whoever was suing them.” Donovan was working and immediately called the cops, then called me.
I still had no idea who ANY of them were, let alone know who to sue. I felt like a target in my home town. I have quite a significant limp on my right side, I always wear shorts, and I never hide the fact that I have one leg. I am noticeable in a crowd to say the least. I had to leave.
After arguing with workman’s comp to move my care, because they are just the best, I moved up to Big Sky, Montana to be with my girlfriend Casey, and away from feeling threatened. I have always been an avid outdoorsman and Big Sky just made complete sense.
I have now been living up here almost a year and although the whole drama of the incident continues, my quality of life up here is far better. I skied as soon as the doctors would allow last season and because of technical skill required to ski up here, I believe I am the better skiing shape than I was prior to Sochi. Some say things happen for a reason and maybe one day, I can look at this whole thing as a positive.
As for right now, I am trying to get my life back. I want to train and race again. I want to show people that you can do whatever you want in this life if you want it bad enough, even if major obstacles are thrown your way. The more sour the lemons, the sweeter the lemonade. Ha! That is my new mantra. I now have more determination than ever to succeed in ski racing and qualify for the US Ski Team, and I WILL bring home gold medals in the next Paralympics for our US of A.
However, I am back at stage 1 as far as my equipment and funding go. I am need of legal race skis as the FIS changed the radius requirements in the year that I was injured and all my skis are ineligible for competition. I also need funding to train in Winter Park, the home of the National Sports Center for the Disabled, as well as travel and lodging expenses throughout the year at the required races. Unfortunately, one could be the best racer in the world, but you have to be able to show up to the events to get the required points. My current budget outlook this year is looking to be around $15,000 if I am to compete in the necessary events and frankly right now, that amount seems astronomically out of reach if I try to do it alone.
I am reaching out for sponsors of all kinds in hopes of finding support for my journey to the next Paralympic Winter Games in Korea. I am eager and willing to work hard for any company who is willing to back me. I have been public speaking since 2012, presenting information on the Paralympic movement, my story, and adaptive sports in the form of team building exercises, conferences, conventions, etc… I would be extremely honored to work with a company in this regard in exchange for financial backing of my training as I am looking for someone who believes I can do it as much as I believe!
I am also currently in the process of obtaining a new prosthetic leg as mine broke due to some weight gain from the injury, but as soon as my insurance company deems a prosthetic leg not just an “experimental device,” I will be back in the full swing of training daily. This hopefully will be happening in the next few weeks as the claim processes through the insurance, and I can’t be more excited! Being on crutches has been horrible on my neck and has also been a real eye-opener to how much I enjoy being bi-pedal! I am stoked for a new, durable, functioning prosthetic so I can get back to full training, and getting to wholly enjoy the perks of living in Montana!
If you or your business feel as though I have what it takes to grab the gold in the next Paralympics and would like to become my sponsor of any kind, I would be extremely grateful and would love to talk with you about how I could hopefully benefit your company as much as you would be benefiting me. My personal email is MarkUrichUSA@gmail.com. Please email me with any questions and I will get back to you ASAP with my phone number if you are interested in sponsoring at all. If you would like to donate to Mark’s training, please visit www.rallyme.com/rallies/2666/markurich
Thank you for your time and efforts, I truly appreciate the support.