Longtime local breaks back in ski accident; medical bill help sought

Kevin MacMillan
Bob Campbell has lived at North Tahoe since 1971.
Courtesy photo |

To say Bob Campbell has had a rough year — well, it’s a bit of an understatement.

The 44-year North Lake Tahoe resident and longtime ski boot technician was rushed Jan. 13 to Tahoe Forest Hospital after fracturing two vertebrae in his lower back and breaking his tail bone, a few ribs and a finger in a skiing accident at Northstar California.

“He was trying to go around a lady and her child … and just hit one of those bumps — he calls them whoop-de-doos — and it shot him 50 feet in the air. It just launched him,” Campbell’s daughter, Tahoe City native Amanda Gray, said last Thursday.

Campbell, 66, moved to North Tahoe in 1971 and for years co-owned the Elite Feet ski boot-fitting branch in the Village at Northstar.

He’s recovering slowly, Gray said, and is wearing a back brace that allows him to move a bit, although the pain is too intense to do much more.

Future tests and CT scans will determine the extent of damage, she said, specifically with his vertebrae.

“He seems to be OK, and he’s in decent spirits,” said Gray, who worked in Incline recently as an office manager at Dr. Michael Kerrigan’s acupuncture clinic. “I told him, “you’re lucky; it could have been a lot worse.”

She then added, “It seems like it’s just one thing after another, though.”

In February, Campbell’s colon ruptured, landing him for about a month at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Gray said, where he had to have emergency surgery and was even placed on a ventilator for 12 hours to save his life.

After months of rehab and taking it easy, her father returned to work at Elite Feet and was doing well, even returning to the slopes. Last Tuesday was just his second day skiing this season, Gray said.

Kieth Rutherford, who’s worked with Campbell the past five years at Elite Feet and has been his friend for more than a decade, was with Campbell when he crashed.

“His skills with people and being able to read someone, it’s just absolutely phenomenal … there’s just something about Bob that he’s able to pretty much get everyone to pay attention to him,” said Rutherford, before adding with a laugh, “I don’t know if it’s the wrinkles that make people listen to him or what … but he sure can light up the room.

“Just as a human being, people are attracted to him.”

Christian Denis opened Elite Feet at The Resort at Squaw Creek in 1994, and he partnered with Campbell to open the Northstar branch in 1995.

Campbell quickly gathered a large clientele and following at Northstar due to his expertise; a 2012 article in Tahoe Arts and Mountain Culture even labeled him a “boot fitting pioneer.”

“On any given day, as many as 10 to 20 people will walk in, asking for Bob,” Rutherford said, “whether it’s just to give him two thumbs up on the boots he fit for them, or just to stop in and see how’s he doing that day.”

Now, it’s Gray’s and Rutherford’s hope that those who’ve loved and appreciated Campbell all these years can help support him in his time of need.

His health care-related debt was already in the thousands of dollars before the ski incident, and that number figures to climb extensively in the coming months due to the many tests and likely long recovery time he’ll need.

‘He’s in such financial devastation from it,” said Gray, who started an Indiegogo campaign which seeks donations from friends and family to help with medical expenses. “Just based on that alone, to see him struggle with it constantly, being in the hospital or recovering but not being able to work, and he can’t make money — it’s a vicious cycle.”

The campaign’s goal is $10,000, and it expires Feb. 13. As of Wednesday, more than $6,000 was raised in just a few days. While ideally the goal will be surpassed, Indiegogo is set up so it allows all the funds to go to the cause, even if the goal isn’t reached.

And despite all the love for Campbell in the community, his daughter has a request for his friends and co-workers about the fundraiser itself.

“He doesn’t know I’m doing this,” she said with a smile. “He has been through a lot within the last year. Let’s give him a much needed break … and it’s a surprise, so don’t say anything to him.”

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