Photo by: Ellie Mango
As she lay there, in a purgatory of shock, pain and adrenaline-fueled anxiety, Ellie Mango wasn’t thinking about the dozens of hours she would be spending in doctor’s offices during the coming months, or the thought she may never walk again; rather she was missing out on such a perfect, sunny day of skiing.
“I just kept thinking, it is such a nice day, what a terrible time to have a life threatening ski accident. I didn’t want to waste it,” she said.
That was Jan. 8, 2011, when the sophomore environmental science and geography major from Simsbury, Conn., caught an edge at Breckenridge Ski Resort and slid head first into a tree.
She shattered the T8 vertebra in the middle of her back and fractured the surrounding T7 and T9.
Mango has made a miraculous recovery that will culminate next weekend when she runs the Colfax marathon on Sunday.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” she said. “Definitely to prove to myself, and to spite the entire back injury and anything any doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to do.”
While the run will provide the capstone to a grueling, almost year-long recovery, Mango said she was able to keep her her optimistic, fun-loving personality throughout the recovery process.
“The scariest moment of my life was [right after the accident] when I looked down at my toes, and then I wiggled my fingers and I wiggled my toes to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed,” said Mango. “Once I realized I could do that, I knew, I knew eventually I would be OK. I told myself that.”
During the ambulance ride back to Denver on the day of the accident, she asked if the paramedics had any music to play. They did, and she used her free hand, the one not hooked up to an IV, to fist bump to the tunes.
“They [the paramedics] laughed. They were happy I still had some spirit in me, they were encouraged by that,” said Mango.
Mango has displayed more character and courage in the months since the accident. Her positive and optimistic personality has encouraged and inspired those around her.
During her surgery, three broken vertebrae were fused together with a synthetic adhesive and a conglomerate of shattered bone, and two titanium rods spanning from vertebra T3 to T11 (about the base of the neck to the lower back) were inserted.
After countless hours of occupational and physical therapy, Mango has made a full recovery, though the process was strenuous.
“After surgery [like that], all your back muscles have just been rearranged, you have screws in your bones, you have stitches and glue everywhere. You are a mess,” she said.
Though the early days of recovery were arduous, Mango quickly progressed and started running again last May.
“I ran one mile and it took me 11 minutes,” said Mango. “I cried of happiness in Wash Park, I was just so happy that I could run again.”
Mango started training for the marathon on Jan. 2 of this year, six days shy of the anniversary of her accident. She hopes to complete the race in less than five hours.
When asked how she would describe the entire experience, Mango replied with the ubiquitous college phrase of the present day.
“I think I might say ‘YOLO.’ Not even kidding. ‘You only live once,’” said Mango. “I mean, as much as the term is thrown around, the deeper meaning of it is sincere. You never think deathly ski accidents will ever happen to you or a close a friend, and then it does and then you have to deal with it. “
Mango said she’s thankful and lucky to have her life back, and because of the experience she is able to appreciate everything more.
“It’s definitely an experience to know that you could have died, and you didn’t, and you get to live. You have just got to live [and] do what you want. Do it all, experience everything; love it all, take it all in,” said Mango.
Mango’s parting words expressed relief that the ordeal is over, excitement for the upcoming race and perfectly encapsulated her prevailing light and happy-go-lucky attitude.
“It’s good to be back,” she said. “No pun intended.”