Extreme athlete pushes on despite enduring near fatal injury

8:36 AM, Feb 13, 2007   |    comments
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After all, she’s a professional endurance athlete who has made a career of running, biking or hiking up some of the most rugged terrain in the world.

“A lot of races I do are through rugged terrain, rough environments, canyons and hiking mountains and peaks,” said Ballengee.

Back in 2000, Ballengee took on all of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks by climbing all of them in just a few days.

“It took me 14 days, 14 hours and 49 minutes. It was one of the toughest experiences of my life but also one of the most satisfying,” said Ballengee.

Day to day, week to week for Ballengee had been about finding something that could really challenge her. However, what she didn’t expect is that test would come from one bad step.

“Just one step and my life had changed,” Ballengee said.

It was last year. Ballengee was out on a training run in Utah when she literally fell into the challenge of her life.

“It was December 13th of last year and I was out for an easy training run. About an hour into the run, I slipped on some ice and fell about 50 to 60 feet down a cliff and landed and ended up breaking my pelvis. I was able to crawl about a quarter mile to a pothole with water in it which I drank from,” said Ballengee.

She would lie at the bottom of that cliff for three days in the cold, losing blood and trying to focus on the things she needed to do to stay alive.

“Focusing on trying to stay warm, staying awake, keeping myself awake, trying to drink enough water to stay hydrated,” Ballengee said.

With the hours passing and no help, desperate thoughts of death creeped into those dark corners of her mind which, for an athlete who took on anything, only fueled her desire to live.

“I was so scared of dying and I knew I wasn’t ready to die. I knew I wasn’t ready and just kept fighting to do whatever I could do to stay alive,” said Ballengee.

It would be enough. Just hours before the sun was to set on that third day, hours before a snowstorm would blanket the ground in unforgiving cold, her rescue came.

First, a worried neighbor called authorities, then rescue teams were shown the way to Ballengee’s broken body by her dog Taz.

“You would never expect a dog to be a part of a rescue, but he was a huge part of it and he ran back and forth from where I was stuck in a canyon all the way back, about 5 or 6 miles, to my truck and trailhead,” said Ballengee.

That started her long road to recovery, first in an intensive care unit, then with her parents and now back home in Dillon.

In February, Ballengee, now in a wheelchair, was given the OK to start therapy. So, just about every day you’ll find her swimming at the Silverthorne Recreation Center. It’s only a kiddy pool, but she knows it’s only for now.

She’s determined to get out of the wheelchair and back on her feet.

“I’ve got hope for the future that I will be able to run again, bike again and hopefully even compete again, and just to be happy to be alive is enough for me,” said Ballengee.

It is fierce optimism in the face of rising medical bills. Ballengee had insurance at the time of her accident, but she says it wasn’t a very good policy, so most of her medical expenses are not covered.

“Unfortunately it doesn’t cover but a small portion of my medical expenses,” said Ballengee.

That’s got the Summit County community racing to help. On March 15, there will be a benefit for Ballengee held at the Silverthorne Pavilion. The event will run from around 5 p.m. till 9 p.m. that night and include bands and a silent auction.

You can also mail donations to:

The Danelle Ballengee Fund, 1st Bank
P.O. Box 347, Silverthorne, CO 80498.

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