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About Utah: Father doing all it takes to nail the landing after snowboarding accident

Published: Monday, April 1 2013 8:48 a.m. MDT

Taking a break from rehab: Cody Walker and wife Lori at University of Utah Hospital, where Cody is undergoing intensive rehab in an attempt to regain full use of his body after a snowboarding crash last month. (Lee Benson, Deseret News) Taking a break from rehab: Cody Walker and wife Lori at University of Utah Hospital, where Cody is undergoing intensive rehab in an attempt to regain full use of his body after a snowboarding crash last month. (Lee Benson, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY Life can turn on a dime, and no one needs to tell Cody Walker. One month ago today, he was flying through the air, as free as an eagle. Today, he’s in the rehab unit at the University of Utah Medical Center, fighting with everything he’s got to get back on his feet.

Life couldn’t have been more promising on that Friday, the first of March, at the Northstar resort near Lake Tahoe. Thirty-five years old, husband to Lori, father to five-year-old June, three-year-old Max and a little girl on the way, steadily employed as a pharmacist, Cody had taken a furlough to spend the weekend with nine male friends at the vacation home belonging to one of them. The plan, what there was of one, called for snowboarding, hot tubs, eating burgers and sleeping, not necessarily in that order. The only condition Lori made before Cody stepped out the door was that her husband would promise to wear a helmet.

Stretching his arms in rehab, Cody Walker works to regain full movement after a snowboard crash in March left him with three crushed vertebrae, two fractured hips and limited body movement. (Walker family photograph) Stretching his arms in rehab, Cody Walker works to regain full movement after a snowboard crash in March left him with three crushed vertebrae, two fractured hips and limited body movement. (Walker family photograph)

He was wearing his helmet when he rode into the Northstar terrain park Friday afternoon and one particular jump caught his eye – a massive riser with a steep landing. He’d never gone off a jump like that back in Utah. An expert snowboarder who took up the sport when he was 12, he had 25 years of serious experience to his credit. Snowboarding was the therapy that got him through his teenage years, his 20s, and pharmacy school.

He especially liked catching air. The nervous rush, the thrill, the sense of accomplishment when well executed. But he was not reckless. None of his friends could remember the last time Cody crashed.

For four or five consecutive runs he scouted out the jump that was calling to him. He checked out the takeoff and assessed the landing. He gauged about how fast he’d have to go for the right liftoff and where he wanted to land so he wouldn’t out-jump the hill. He watched others take the jump.

Cody Walker, a victim of a snowboard crash, hugs his daughter June, 5, and son Max, 3, at University of Utah hospital. (Walker family photograph) Cody Walker, a victim of a snowboard crash, hugs his daughter June, 5, and son Max, 3, at University of Utah hospital. (Walker family photograph)

Finally he was ready to launch. As all his friends watched, he boarded to a stop at a predetermined spot above the jump, then took off, picking up speed until he vaulted over the lip. Suddenly he was 20 feet off the ground and climbing, until gravity pulled him back to earth.

He landed perfectly.

You know what that meant? Seconds. Another lift ride and Cody was again above the jump, at the same spot as before. Again, his friends assembled off to the side to watch. Again, he pointed his board down and was off, rapidly picking up speed.

But this time something changed. Maybe it was a gust of wind. Maybe it was a bump in the snow. But when he flew into the air his board wasn’t where it needed to be. It wasn’t underneath him, but off to the side. Cody starting “rolling up the windows,” as boarders call it, waving his arms frantically in an attempt to get his balance back. He was 40 feet off the ground, as high as a four-story building, when he began his plummet and realized he was out of time. He braced for a landing on something other than his board. He hit on his butt and his neck and slid 50 yards on the snow.

Cody Walker shares a kiss with his son Max, 3, at University of Utah Hospital, where he's undergoing extensive physical rehab in an attempt to reverse damages suffered in a snowboard crash on March 1. (Walker family photograph) Cody Walker shares a kiss with his son Max, 3, at University of Utah Hospital, where he's undergoing extensive physical rehab in an attempt to reverse damages suffered in a snowboard crash on March 1. (Walker family photograph)

Then he lay there as his friends rushed to his side. He knew something wasn’t right because he hadn’t felt his body as he was sliding. One of his friends was an ER doctor. Cody looked up hopefully as the doc began poking his stomach. But all the doctor said was, “hang tight till they come and get you.”

His friends, LDS guys like him from Utah, closed a circle and gave him a blessing, then waited for the patrol.

Cody fractured both hips and three vertebrae. He spent the two longest weeks of his life in a Reno hospital before he was airlifted to University Hospital in Salt Lake City. During all that time in Reno, as he underwent three surgeries on his neck and hips, he felt no movement from the waist down. He had ample reason to fear the worst.

But once he got to the U. and started physical rehab he began moving his feet and legs. He also found more extension in his hands and arms.

No one’s making any promises. Lori and Cody have already bought the wheelchair he’ll eventually leave the hospital in. But every day Cody has more movement and there’s no telling how far he’ll come back with the proper rehab.

But here’s the thing. His insurance – good, full-coverage, paid-up insurance the Walkers fully expected would amply cover their needs – only allows for 15 days of rehab.

That expired last Thursday.

A nonprofit foundation called High Five stepped forward and picked up the tab for eight more days.

That will be used up by next Friday.

And after that? For their part, the Walkers have already made the decision that they’ll keep up the rehab as long as it takes – a year probably, maybe even more. And they’ve made the decision that someway, somehow, they will pay for it, because what other expense could possibly take precedence over doing everything possible so that a father of three can walk again and throw his kids in the air and catch them and fix their bikes?

Seeing the determination, and the urgent need, friends and family – and a few outright strangers – have rallied to the cause and are putting on a “Support Cody” fundraiser tonight at Butler Middle School. There will be food, entertainment and a silent auction, with all proceeds going to help keep Cody in rehab.

To learn more or to contribute, go to supportcody.com.

In the meantime, Cody will continue his hospital rehab, six grueling sessions a day, all day, every day. Windmilling his arms and stretching his legs until they’re functioning like before – and he’s back again on solid ground.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: benson@deseretnews.com

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