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Reaching new heights after TBI

May 23, 2014

Glenn Porzak is one of the world’s most accomplished mountaineers. He has climbed Mt. Everest. He was only the seventh person in the world to climb the famed “Seven Summits,” the highest peaks on each continent. He has climbed on an expedition to Antarctica with Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and Doug Tompkins, the founder of North Face. He is the past president of the Colorado Mountain Club and the American Alpine Club. His climbing resume is more than three pages long, single spaced.

It’s safe to say that Porzak knows his stuff.

But a fluke accident on a relatively simple climb in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area in August 2010 left Porzak on the brink of death.

“I was climbing in the Indian Peaks area, doing a peak I’ve done many times before, when a ledge gave way,” he says. “I reached up for a boulder above, but it came loose in my hands. I fell 70 feet in a rock avalanche and then plunged another 1,000 feet.”

After an all-day alpine rescue effort, Porzak was airlifted to St. Anthony’s Central, where he spent three weekGlenn Porzak in the Swiss Alps at sunrise.s in the intensive care unit with a traumatic brain injury, a split pelvis and multiple broken bones. His wife was told that he might not survive, and if he did, he wouldn’t regain cognitive function.

With hard work and rehabilitation at Craig Hospital, he was able to prove his doctors wrong, returning to work as a water rights attorney with Porzak Browning & Bushong LLP just 2 ½ months after his accident.

“People say it’s miraculous—I don’t know that it is, but they say that I had a better recovery because I was in good shape,” he says. “For whatever reason, it just wasn’t the right time for me to go.”

Porzak remembers working hard at his therapy sessions at Craig. “I was so exhausted by the end of the day, it’s not fun and games,” he says. “I did so poorly early on, but I gradually started improving.”

His physical therapist, Judy Smart, knew that he was frustrated being cooped up indoors, so she took him on long walks through the neighborhoods around Craig.

“That was super important, being back in the environment,” he says. “It was the best therapy I could have had. She and others at Craig were so important to my successful recovery.”

Porzak says that while his life is different than it was before the accident it is actually better. “When you’re forced to slow down, you can see things differently,” he says. “I deal with people in a better way now, and it’s improved my relationships.”

He has returned to climbing—wearing a helmet. He tackled Longs Peak one year after the accident, and climbed a number of challenging peaks in the Swiss Alps at the two-year mark.

“It was a big deal for me psychologically to do that grade of climbs in the Swiss Alps,” he says. “But for the first time, on my last climb in the Alps (the Dent d’Herens), I felt almost no difference from pre-to-post accident.”

“It was strenuous, but it felt good.”