This Month we chose Lilli as our Fan of the Month!! Lilli reached out to SGP and inspired us with her story. Read below Lilli's story:)
My name is Lilliana – “Lilli” for short. I am a 20 year old student in college. I was born in southern Italy but have lived most of my life in Colorado.
I played a bit of soccer in middle and high school, but it was never the main sport in my life. I was something of an average utility player. I played at whatever position was needed: attacker, midfielder, a few stints at defense, and a single forgettable half in goal. My numbers were never all that impressive and I spent most games on the bench. No, my primary sport is climbing.
Indeed, when I'm not trying to keep my GPA where I want it or having my arms and legs in all directions by my sorority, you will typically find me in the middle of nowhere, scaling cliffs and rocks. When I am on campus, it's a safe bet that you'll find me at the rock-wall.
I just wanted to share my story and why I credit the amazing women of SoccerGrlProbs with saving my life.
I arose at 5:30 that morning with a splitting headache. The previous night was more than forgettable. A quick glance at my texts reminded me that I inherited the role of unwilling mediator between two of my sorority sisters as they fought over some frat boy. Don't get me wrong: I love my sorority. I love my sisters. But it was spring break, a week when I should have been able to go home and relax, away from the drama of Panhellenic societies and stresses of academic expectations.
I changed into more suitable cold-weather climbing apparel: layers upon layers on top, finished off with a pair of athletic leggings for which I probably paid way too much (ditto for the bright neon pink running shoes on my feet).
Both of my parents had already left for work. My brother (five years my elder) was in the kitchen, scarfing down a bowl of bran flakes and milk. A kinesiology grad, he worked (and still works) in the athletic department for the nearby college. He's one of those guys you always see on campus wearing the same exact uniform day-in and day-out: a “so-and-so University A.D.” polo tucked into a pair of khakis. Without saying anything or looking up from his iPad, he gave me a nonchalant flick-of-the-wrist wave as I grabbed my keys hanging beside the front door. He knew exactly where I was going.
The roads were pretty sparse at that time in the morning; I always tried to hit the highway before Denver rush hour and it was not long before I left the interstate behind. After about forty minutes, I pulled off to the side of a secluded dirt road at the trail-head. From there, it was a twenty minute hike to a clearing between the tall pines. The rock formation in question was a cliff face that rose a little more than a hundred feet above the ground. A climber installed loop bolts into the rock some number of years ago, but based on the remoteness of this spot, I was probably the only person who still used them.
Before embarking on the hike, I slid my phone under the front seat of my car for safe keeping and checked my iPod to make sure that it was charged. Of all things, I usually chose to listen to one of two things as I climb: a comedy podcast and audio from SoccerGrlProbs videos. These kept me relaxed, something that's important when climbing. If a climber is too tense, he or she may be reluctant to reach for the next hold, using up valuable energy while remaining stationary. The goal of climbing is simple: keep moving upwards.
While I'll spare you the details of the setup, the configuration of my safety line was quite simple. A large and aging oak tree above the cliff served as an anchor point; the line was tied around the trunk and then strung through two clips attached to loop bolts (drilled directly into the rock) near the top of the cliff. These served as primary support and backup support – if one failed, the other would keep me from falling.
Excited to climb outdoors for the first time in a while, I exchanged my running shoes for my climbing shoes, put on my helmet, and secured my harness. After queuing up a playlist of SGP videos, I pulled myself onto the wall.
As I started to climb, I felt a delightful sense of familiarity. It was pure muscle memory. Just as a striker knows exactly when he/she has contacted the ball just right or a goalkeeper instinctively dives with perfect form to save the shot, my body knew exactly what holds to grasp, where to reach, and what path to take up the cliff.
A crimson red bolt signified the quarter-way mark. I paused for a moment to adjust my harness. I set my right foot down on a piece of rock that suddenly fell away as I pushed up for leverage. Within a split second, I heard a sound over my earbuds that I can only analogize to two wine glasses being noisily clinked together. I looked up just in time to see the line go slack. Then I fell – and continued falling – before slamming into the cold, rock-hard ground thirty feet below.
I'm not sure how long I laid supine and motionless at the base of the cliff. My ears were ringing. Little colorful dots flitted in and out of my field of vision. I was scared to move but at the same time afraid that I wouldn't be able to move at all.
At very least, my helmet (though cracked straight down the middle) had protected my skull. My neck and back were seemingly intact. After summing up the courage, I was almost thrilled that I could still wiggle my fingers and toes. But the brief ecstasy that I could move my limbs was quickly erased by an excruciating pain that tore down my left leg. I screamed louder than I ever had before, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. I had never previously experienced that kind of agony. I was almost certain that I had shattered my left femur. I suspected that I had broken my hip, several ribs, and God knew what else. I distinctly recall the feeling and taste of blood dripping down the back of my throat.
Then I remembered my phone, the phone I had tucked away under the front passenger seat of my car. I'm fairly certain some of the screaming I did was just as much a product of pain as it was anger at myself. I never saw a reason to bring it along when I climbed. I figured it was prone to get rained on or broken or lost.
Oddly enough, not only had my earbuds survived the fall, but they had stayed firmly in place – their arms securely tucked behind my ears. As I laid on the ground, SoccerGrlProbs played on, providing an eerily comedic backdrop to the grim scenario.
It was a struggle to stave off the enticing temptation of unconsciousness. I knew that I couldn't afford to pass out. Anatomy class had taught me that such serious trauma to the body often meant severe internal injuries that could prove fatal even if the individual survived the initial fall.
Waiting for someone to find me was not an option either. One summer, just out of pure curiosity, I left a piece of cord clipped to one of the loops near the top of the cliff. If someone else was climbing here, that piece of cord have been disturbed or missing when I returned. It stayed in place for the entire summer.
My eyes came to rest on a long metal pole lying next to my bag, just within arms' reach next to my keys. Informally, it was called a “clip stick”, used for hooking and unhooking clips in hard to reach places. I knew the path back to the car....if I could just get myself upright, I could use that stick for support...
I must have spent the next forty minutes untangling myself from my harness and trying to stand up without collapsing from the pain. Eventually, I was able to get myself to the point where I could take a few steps before stopping. I kept telling myself that any progress towards the car was good progress, no matter how slow.
With each step, a wave of pain washed over my entire lower body. More spread through my sides with every breath. Blood poured from my nose. I'm pretty sure that if a lone hiker had come across me at that point, he or she would have run screaming in the other direction – certain that the zombie takeover had started. My walk was not a walk at all, it was more of a drunken shuffle. After every couple of steps, I had to pause and lean on the pole. My head was pounding. My stomach churned. I can't even begin to estimate the number of times I stumbled and fell.
During this whole ordeal, SoccerGrlProbs videos continued to play. I didn't care that I had heard the same audio from the same video four or five times already. It helped to hear comforting voices in my ears, voices that could put my mind at ease and help me forget about the pain. I'm fairly certain that I cracked a smile a few times. As stupid as it may sound: Alanna, Carly, and Shannon were with me, right beside me, the whole entire time.
By the time that I reached my car, my legs were covered with cuts and scrapes. A distinctly sharp and stabbing pain had developed in my left shoulder. For a moment, I placed my hand on the cold metal of the trunk for support, too exhausted to do much else. With every ounce of strength that I had left, I unlocked the passenger side and reached for my phone. The 911 operator assured me that help was fast approaching.
I was rushed to a hospital about thirty minutes away.The x-rays painted a clear picture of the trauma that my body had endured: my left femur was shattered, four of my ribs (two on each side) were fractured, and my upper left arm was broken in two places. I had suffered internal injuries to my kidneys and lungs. My spleen had ruptured and had been progressively leaking blood. Had I waited for help, the rate of blood loss meant that I would have likely died in as little as seven or eight hours. Miraculously, my skull, back, and neck were left entirely unharmed.
Not long after I was released from the hospital, my brother took a solo trip out to the cliff. It was something of a favor to me; I wanted to know if there was any indication as to what had gone wrong with my equipment that morning. He discovered two rusted bolts on the ground beneath the rock. These were those all important safety anchors near the top; they had pulled loose from the cliff-face, presumably when my weight jerked down on the line after I slipped. I had been careless, hadn't checked the amount of rope I was using, hadn't ensured that everything was in working order. When I do start climbing again, I plan to do so with a healthy new respect for pre-climb equipment checks.
My prognosis is quite good. With physical therapy and proper healing, my doctor says that I will likely be back to my old self by this coming winter (at the earliest) and certainly no later than this time next year. I look forward to that, look forward to getting back to climbing.
I apologize for the novel, but as a final note to Alanna, Carly, and Shannon: thank you, thank you so so much. Others may see it differently, but just hearing your voices in my ears as I struggled to find help kept me composed and relaxed. It was incredibly comforting, incredibly soothing to have some sort of diversion from the pain and fear that I was experiencing. There were so many times during that long walk to find help that I thought I wouldn't be able to make it. I don't know if I would have been able to keep my mind in the right place if I didn't have you with me. In a nutshell, you three saved my life and I will be forever grateful.
Dio la benedica.