Life After Injury
A National Ability Center Success Story
Backcountry partners with the National Ability Center (NAC) around the shared mission of breaking down barriers between humans and nature. The NAC is a world-class organization that provides access to all kinds of outdoor activities for people with disabilities. Based in Park City, Utah, the NAC has been helping people get active outside since the 1980s.
To empower even more people to live a life closer to the outdoors, Backcountry features adaptive athletes in stories, serves as an outfitter of NAC athletes and guides, and co-hosts fundraisers to benefit the NAC.
We recently spoke to Jeremy Morgan, an adaptive athlete at the NAC whose life was turned upside down by an accident in 2015. Here, he shares his story of recovery, his new-found appreciation for life, and plans for the future.
At 9:30am on May 23rd, 2015, Jeremy Morgan left his home in Coalville, Utah, to meet a friend in Oakley. While riding his dirt bike along UT-32, a private school bus heading in the opposite direction made a sudden turn towards Browns Canyon, right into Jeremy’s path.
In a split-second decision, Jeremy laid down his bike in an attempt to slide under the bus, but the two collided. The impact broke every bone in the lower half of his back, along with his hip, femur, and jaw. The bus’ wheels also broke his helmet in two, resulting in a life-changing brain injury that placed Jeremy in a coma for almost three and a half months.
Five years on, at 29 years old, Jeremy’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. The road has been long, and his successes, thanks mostly to his own strength and positivity, have been buoyed by the National Ability Center (NAC) and their wide-reaching program of adaptive sports. A former firefighter, Jeremy now works at Lucky Ones Coffee Shop in Park City, and attends sessions at the NAC whenever he can. We recently spent some time with Jeremy to find out more about his outdoor life.
Tell us about your accident. How did it affect your life?
My accident was in May, 2015, and I was unconscious until my birthday in August. I was in a coma for three and a half months—a nice long safety nap [laughs]. I missed a few weddings, a few funerals, and had 25 different operations.
I’m no longer a firefighter. I was forced into retirement by a negligent driver. My body hurts every day, but activity makes me feel alive. I have a new appreciation for life since my accident. Small things like waking up in your own bed, being able to drive. You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.
The doctor said that I hit my head so hard it sent my hypothalamus into overdrive, and I grew four inches. My feet grew a size and a half, too. It wasn’t fun learning to walk again at 25. The physical therapist got the extent of my colorful vocabulary [laughs].
What do you like to do in the outdoors?
In the summer I go paddle boarding, kayaking and climbing. When I started kayaking I used outriggers, but this summer I only used them for one session. It’s a little rocky at times, but I stayed in the boat.
I like biking in the fall because the weather is nice and cool, and not too hot. You can also feel that winter is coming quick—which means one thing: Après ski [laughs]. Fall also means more climbing. I show up to the NAC and walk in, and Andrew the instructor says, ‘what’s up?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m here to get high… on the climbing wall.’
I love the winter, but since the accident, the weather can be bone-chilling. The metal around my leg leftover from the operations tells me it’s cold. The first two years after my accident I was in the sit ski, and then I graduated to a snow slider, then to outriggers last year. My favorite run on a fresh pow day is Blanche—that double fall line is so fun.
That’s a lot of activities. Do you have any outdoor goals?
I’ve learned to set realistic goals. Everyone wants to fly, but realistically no-one can. It’s not physically possible.
Right now I climb on the super juggy routes at the climbing gym. I want to move to the harder routes—the finger crimps. I want to be able to get to the top of the rock wall, and tie-in without help. I’m also really looking forward to climbing outdoors and getting some vitamin D.
What does the NAC mean to you?
A lot. They helped me re-learn to ski, plus I’ve learned to ski with my heel fixed, because I used to telemark before the accident. They also taught me to get on a horse, although my one request wasn’t met—to add a cupholder to the saddle. It was shot down [laughs].
When I was a firefighter, one of my old bosses used to say, ‘lower your standards and up your average.’ The NAC has helped me do that, and it has meant achieving my goals. They work with people to get them outdoors, and they give you that warm and fuzzy feeling—you feel welcome.
It’s scary for me, because another hard head hit, and I’m done [clicks fingers]. Luckily they have good helmets [laughs].
Do you have any advice for other people hoping to get more active in the outdoors?
Find out what you like to do and stick to it. And also, wear a helmet. I’m living proof that they save lives. Mine was broken in half, but it’s why I’m here now.