My first game back was one of the most memorable experiences of basketball I’ve ever had. The whole crowd was going crazy. —Elijah Glissmeyer
SANDY — Alta’s Elijah Glissmeyer frolics through pregame routines, rhythmically swaying at midcourt in his red-patterned socks and white-striped Adidas. He calmly approaches the front of the line, pausing only momentarily while teammates jokingly distract his attention. He smirks and confidently releases his high-arcing shot.
The net twines. Glissmeyer shrugs, palms out, as Michael Jordan famously did in the 1992 NBA Finals. Not this time, haters. He playfully debunks lingering jeers with motioned air drums and lip-synced vocals to music echoing across the gymnasium: “I’ll keep you by my side with my superhuman might, kryptonite.”
The lyrics symbolize his unlikely resurrection back to the basketball court. In October 2012, Glissmeyer slipped while hiking at Lake Powell. “I thought after 10 feet I’d stop. I went on my stomach to try and stop myself,” he says. Instead, momentum helplessly carried him toward the cliff’s precipice and his inevitable fate: a 60-foot free fall.
“We were hiking for over two hours and it was getting dark. We wanted to try to find the fastest way down,” Glissmeyer recalled before chuckling in gallows humor. “I did find the fastest way down — it wasn’t the best way.”
For an imagined eternity, and four-second reality, he plummeted to the rust-colored surface. “I never remember hitting the ground,” he says, but he’ll never forget the aftermath.
Glissmeyer broke his skull, tailbone, hips, arm, nose — in five places — and his orbital bone. He compound fractured his elbow, partially collapsed his lung and suffered severe skin avulsions.
“I only had a swimming suit on, and some slippers,” he explains. “I thought I was going to die.”
Yet, either by miracle or wonder, his life was spared. “All I could think about was: I just wanted to live and see my family,” Glissmeyer says. “How bad the injuries were, I’m glad that I only sustained that. I’m not paralyzed. I’m grateful nothing worse happened.”
Months of rehabilitation restoring physical mobility ensued as mental strains and doubts formulated: Would he ever walk again, let alone continue his athletic career? How would his peers perceive his new identity? What would his post-accident life be like?
“It was the most painful thing in my life,” Glissmeyer said.
He progressed rapidly. One month, and Glissmeyer walked. Three, and he ran. Then, four months removed, he returned to the court and scored eight points in Alta’s win over Jordan last season.
“My first game back was one of the most memorable experiences of basketball I’ve ever had,” Glissmeyer said. “The whole crowd was going crazy.”
Now, more than a year since the accident, Glissmeyer still is unable to fully extend his elbow, although he quickly points out, “That hasn’t stopped me.” But his remaining health complications are fully repaired.
“I wasn’t fully back until this year,” he says. “It’s great to be back and I’m really thankful for that.”
After advancing to the 5A state championship game in 2012, Alta is 11-1 with Glissmeyer’s defensive presence in the starting lineup. Not known for his offensive ability, he scored a career-high 20 points with six 3-pointers in the Hawks’ recent overtime win over Olympus.
“I got a chance to really contribute and help the team,” he said. “I’ve never shot that many 3s. They were flowing and the coaches, as long as I made them, weren’t getting mad. So, I kept shooting them.”
On Friday, Glissmeyer will soak in the moment. He’ll wait patiently while the starting lineups are announced before his name is fittingly called. He’ll shake the hand of the opposing coach — the officials, too — before splitting the adjacent line of teammates as they converge around him.
He’ll yell: “Nothing’s difficult.”
“Everything’s a challenge,” they’ll respond.
“To the stars”3 comments on this story
“To the last man; to the last minute; to the last second; to the last whistle — we fight,” Glissmeyer will conclude.
Applicable to his own individual journey, the Hawks have adopted his strength and appreciation for the blessings of playing high school basketball.
“I’m so beyond happy to play, especially for my parents,” Glissmeyer says. “My dad, to this day, wants me to wear an elbow pad to show that I survived. He says it’s a sign of strength and to remember what I went through.”