FEATURE STORY: A Superhero Heals
JACKSON, WYO – Sitting down with Sally Francklyn two years after her near-fatal ski accident
In the corner of a hospital room hangs a poster of a silhouette telemark skier wearing a cape with the superman symbol on her jacket. Arching a perfect powder turn, the skier depicts the woman lying in the hospital bed: Sally Francklyn, an accomplished young skier and journalist, critically injured in a backcountry skiing accident just a few days earlier.
On March 24, 2012, Francklyn and three close friends boarded the tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to enjoy a sunny day of spring skiing. After discussing the day’s plans over waffles at Corbet’s Cabin, the group headed out the top boundary gate towards Cody Peak. As experienced backcountry skiers familiar with the terrain, their plan was to ski a steep southeast facing couloir called “Once is Enough” off the backside of Cody Peak and then continue south towards Jensen Canyon. When they approached the top of the couloir, the group observed ideal spring corn snow conditions. The first skier navigated the steep entrance and made his way down the couloir, pulling out to a safe zone on the right. Francklyn was next. She entered the couloir and made a few turns, but then something went wrong. Francklyn began to tumble, and unable to self-arrest, she collided with the rock wall at the bottom of the couloir, shattering her helmet in the process. For the next three weeks, unresponsive in a medically-induced coma, Francklyn lay in a hospital bed beside her Superwoman Sally poster at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.
Despite suffering a traumatic brain injury in her ski accident, Francklyn, now 26, defied all odds, rightfully earning her the moniker Superwoman Sally. Her perseverance not only put her back on skis and has her writing for media giants such as ESPN.com, but has led her to inspire others through organizations like the High Fives Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money and awareness for athletes that have suffered life-altering injuries. She gives people hope far beyond the world of skiing, too. Friends and family of those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries follow her story via her blogposts on sallyfrancklyn.com and published articles.
Others have set their own personal goals, running marathons and tackling fears motivated by the premise, “If Sally can do it, so can I.”
Whether you are a close friend of Francklyn’s, met her once, or only read about her, she exudes a contagious energy and enthusiasm. She’s the first to commend the quick response of her skiing partners, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Patrol, Teton County Search and Rescue and the dedication of her caregivers at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. She’ll also tell you that fateful day is not what defines her.
Here the Planet catches up with Superwoman Sally.
Planet Jackson Hole: It’s been a little more than two years since your accident. Do you remember any of the day’s events: The tram ride, hiking Cody, etc.?
Sally Francklyn: I remember nothing about March 24, not even getting out of bed, the drive to the hill, or riding the tram up. My memory doesn’t come back until a couple months after that day. I was kept in the hospital for a long time after my accident, but I never got annoyed or frustrated. I just focused on recovery, and nothing else came to mind.
PJH: Looking back, what thoughts and emotions come to mind when you think about that day?
SF: I wish I hadn’t got out of bed! But actually, I’m really glad I was wearing a helmet because it absolutely saved my life. My life isn’t the same as it used to be. For instance, now I’m left-handed when I used to be right-handed, speaking is more difficult, and my walking isn’t the same. But the injury has taught me so much – how lucky I am to have my family supporting me all this time. I’m much closer with my friends than I used to be, and I’m focusing more on the things that are important to me and taking time to achieve them.
PJH: What have been your biggest milestones over the past two years?
SF: Just after my accident and in the hospital, I was in pretty rough shape – my speaking was difficult, energy was lower, and I didn’t look the same as I used to. I’ve realized that it takes some time for some things to happen and come back. A lot is different now, but I focus on the things that can get better and try to improve them. If I don’t take the initiative and just wait to let things happen naturally, that means they’ll never improve.
PJH: What makes these achievements stand out to you?
SF: Life is much different than it used to be, like I’ve said, but what stands out are the things that keep getting better. Knowing things will get better and won’t always be like they are right now gives me hope.
PJH: Before moving to Jackson, where did you live, ski and work?
SF: I lived in Boulder, Colo., and I was the online editor for Ski and Skiing magazines. I also was a volunteer ski patroller at Copper Mountain, so I was able to do that on weekends. I ski patrolled for 10 years. Copper is cool because they have a junior patrol program, so the years I did that added up and are included in the 10.
PJH: What made you decide to move to Jackson Hole?
SF: I was offered the job in Wyoming [at Denny Ink] while I was still in Colorado, but I knew from friends and previous trips it was a great place to live. I moved there for the job, but because the job was focused on the outdoors, I often went skiing and called it “work.” It was a change for me because I had originally worked on the writing side of the ski industry, where you are pitched by public relations companies to cover what they want you to. Then I went to work in PR. I was pitching magazine writers to cover our client’s product- the total opposite.
PJH: What did you like most about Jackson? The terrain, people, and or culture?
SF: I love a lot of things about Jackson: the people, the mountains, where you could go to have fun, etc. I only lived there for a month and a half, but it has been one of my favorite places to live and call home. I love Boulder too, but Jackson comes in second place.
PJH: Where are you now, and what have you been up to?
SF: I’m in Boulder, and I’m volunteering for Dynafit. They used to be one of our PR clients when I lived and worked in Jackson, so my current boss used to be my former co-worker. I live within walking distance to the grocery store, the coffee shop, and the gym, so if I’m ever bored, I can do any of those things.
PJH: What is it that draws you to skiing?
SF: I was raised skiing. We had a ski cabin since before I was born. I even went backcountry skiing in a backpack on my dad’s back when I was six months old. What draws me to skiing is that you can be out on snow. Some people consider it exercise, but I just consider it fun. With ski patrolling, I was able to merge the two things I loved: medicine and snow.
PJH: Do you still feel the same way about the mountains and skiing?
SF: Mountains and skiing are still very important to me, but I have started to look for other things that are important to me as well – travel, different cities, lakes. Yes, I still love the snow. I’ve had some great experiences on it since my accident, but I’ve started to find other things that make me happy.
PJH: How have family and friends played a role helping you stay motivated, encouraged and confident throughout your recovery?
SF: Family has played a huge, huge role in where I am today. I was so lucky to have a family that found it so important to support and believe in me. I had many friends before my injury, and I’m lucky to still have those friends and their continued support. I’m even closer to many of them now than I used to be. I guess sometimes it takes something life-altering to find out what’s important to you.
PJH: Is there anyone you’d like to thank or something else important you would like to mention?
SF: If it wasn’t for my friends being there the day of my ski accident, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Ski patrol arrived pretty soon after my accident, flight-for-life arrived where they could get me off the snow, and another flight-for-life took me to the hospital in Idaho Falls. I know my friends must have had a rough time because the day’s plans changed drastically, but I am who I am today thanks to their actions. My life was also saved because I was wearing a helmet. It shattered into a million pieces, but the fact that I was wearing it meant more than anything that happened to me because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here today. That said, it’s very important to me that skiers and snowboarders wear helmets. When they don’t, I get really mad at them. I often want to go up to them and tell them, [wearing a helmet] saved my life! But it’s not up to me, so whatever they decide to do is their choice.
PJH: What goals do you have for the near future, and what’s your secret to achieving them?
SF: My goals for the near future are to travel and then travel some more! I just try to remain patient and focused on what I can control and improve. My goals seem pretty simple, but the main thing that needs to improve is my balance. I hope that walking around the world will help with that.
Photo cutline: Sally returned to Jackson on December 8, 2012 and hosted a benefit to support Teton County Search and Rescue and Jackson Hole Ski Patrol. This was her first public speaking appearance since the accident.
Photo credit: Jonathan Selkowitz
Photo cutline: Francklyn cat skiing with her father Reg on Jones Pass, Colo. in February 2011.
Photo credit: Reg Francklyn Photography
Photo cutline:Sally’s first downhill skiing experience since March 24, 2012 was made possible by the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.
Photo credit: Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center
Photo cutline: Francklyn begins her return to skis on the flats at Steamboat Springs, Colo. with her father and mother, Reg and Barb Francklyn. Photo Reg Francklyn Photography