Touchstone Blog Archive
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
  Recovering From Injury: Christine Zalecki
Bruce Lee once said, "Fall down seven times, get up eight." Christine Zalecki knows the value of these words.

Over a Joshua Tree Thanksgiving in 2005, Christine, a long time trad climber, was leading the Book of Changes (5.10d) in the Big Horn Mating Grotto. At the top a broken hold had made the crux much harder than she knew. She fell. Her gear pulled, and she decked from about 55 feet, breaking her neck and seriously injuring her wrist. She continued the climbing lifestyle. In June 2009, while deep water soloing in Mallorca, she pulled a loose hold off the wall. She fell 45 feet sideways into the water, nearly losing her ankle when she hit a ledge on the way down. She has continued to pursue her passion despite a fused neck and a fused ankle, climbing on the Incredible Hulk in the Sierras, clipping bolts in Utah, and heading regularly to Yosemite National Park. Christine offered the Touchstone Blog a bit of insight about her accidents, how to recover from injuries, and how to come back strong.

Christine during her trip to Mallorca.

What helped motivate you to climb again?

I don't think I lost the motivation to climb. As I was floating in the water (After falling in Mallorca) with a detached foot, waiting for a rescue, I swore I'd never climb again. But once I was on crutches and in a cast, it wasn't long before I was toproping in the gym with my cast on. What can I say? It's just too damn fun to give up.

Were you scared to climb again?

I still cannot lead trad climbs. I've tried, but my body just starts shaking, even on really easy climbs that I could free solo. Sport climbing isn't a problem and I'll take big falls, but if there's a little a ledge below me I get really scared, even if there's no way I could hit it. But I'm still pretty bold -- more so than many people who've never had an accident.

Christine in the hospital after her near fatal fall in Joshua Tree. Luckily, she was wearing a helmet, which probably saved her life.

How did these accidents change your perception of rock climbing?

The reality of how dangerous it is is much more salient for me now than it was before. Things I wouldn't have thought twice about before -- like getting on a climb with a really sketchy first clip or that has obvious big ground fall potential -- I stop and think about and maybe even back off. I don't avoid runouts, big falls, or sketchy climbs altogether, but I definitely stop and think about what I'm doing more carefully. Also, I have thought A LOT about what it was like for the friends who were with me for both of my accidents: my belayer for JTree, and my friend who sat with me on the water for an hour while I screamed and bled in Mallorca. I think about how terrible it was for them, and also how awful I would feel if I were on the other side of the rope -- so consequently I've become pretty obsessive about checking knots, anchor setups, etc. so that I don't do anything stupid that could lead to someone else's injury.

Christine crushing the great sport climbs at Owen's River Gorge

What was the hardest part of recovering?

The worst thing about my first fall (in Joshua Tree) was reading what all the people on Supertopo had to say about it. Someone posted the accident report, and what followed was a ridiculously long thread of armchair analysis and misinformation from posers who weren't there. It took me a couple hours and a couple glasses of wine (drunk through a straw because of my neck) to read the whole thing.

What's the best advice you can give to someone recovering from an accident?

Don't read Supertopo.

Christine is just one of the members of Touchstone who have faced serious physical adversity and come back strong. Her tenacity and dedication is inspiring.

For those that want to learn more, Touchstone offers a number of different workshops on climber injuries, how to prevent them, and how to recovery. Keep an eye on the newsletter, calendar, and this blog for further information.

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