C.R. Johnson nearing 100 percent recovery
Just three and a half months removed from a skiing accident that left him in a coma at a Utah hospital, Truckee resident C.R. Johnson is returning to his old form.
The professional skier even got in some powder turns after recent storms.
“It was awesome,” Johnson, 22, said of skiing at Squaw Valley twice in the last two weeks, both on fresh snow days. “It was really good for peace of mind, just to know that everything is going to be OK. My skiing didn’t really lose a step. I’m skiing at full strength.”
But not full bore.
“I’m keeping it mellow,” he said, adding that hitting any kind of jump, cliff or dicey line is out of the question this season.
Next year, however, he said he will resume his career that has been put on hold.
“Right away when I come back I know I’ll have hesitation, but at the same time I know I’ll overcome that,” he said. “That’s a weakness in your skiing.”
Johnson has been staying with parents Lorraine and Russ in Truckee since his release from the hospital on Jan. 10. (See “Dec. 8 ” The accident” below.)
That is soon to change, though, as Johnson said he plans to move back into his own house in Tahoe Donner on April 10. He also received a doctor’s permission to drive about a month ago, as he was strongly advised not to operate a vehicle following his head injury.
“My biggest thing was becoming independent again, and getting my driver’s license back was the biggest step towards independence,” he said.
Physically, Johnson said he is 100 percent, except for the right pinkie finger he still cannot straighten all the way. He is still doing occupational therapy with Ladd Williams, of Bear Bones Physical Therapy, and has been lifting weights in a gym.
Although his long-term memory is sharp, Johnson said he has yet to fully recover mentally.
“My memory is what I’m having the most trouble with. It’s the last lingering problem,” Johnson said, explaining that the part of his brain that stores information was damaged in the accident.”
Because of this, it has been difficult since the injury to turn occurrences into memories. Johnson does not remember anything from two weeks before the accident to four weeks after.
He also has found that it takes him a moment to remember on-the-spot things, such as what he did the day before, if asked. But that part of his memory has improved considerably in the last two weeks, he said.
Johnson’s speedy recovery, both mentally and physically, is a relief to concerned family members and friends.
“I’m just stoked to see him doing so well and recovering so quickly,” said Tanner Hall, 22, a professional skier and good friend of Johnson’s.
Asked if he misses Johnson’s company on the mountain, Hall said, “Definitely, man. That’s my homey. That’s like my best friend there … I love skiing with him. But I know I’ll be skiing with him again soon.”
On what type of skier Johnson is: “He’s just an all-around skier,” Hall said. “To me, he’s the best skier in the world. He can do every aspect of it. He’s good to be around because I feed off his energy; he pushes me.”
At the Winter X Games in late January, Hall, with a television camera in his face immediately following a first-place finish in the superpipe competition, dedicated his win to Johnson.
“That made me feel really good,” said Johnson, who attended and even did some TV commentating during the slopestyle portion of the X Games, but returned home for the latter part of the Games. “Tanner is one of my best friends in life. It showed that even in his time of glory, he’s still considerate of his friends.”
While he said he enjoyed taking part in the event, Johnson is more accustomed to competing than watching.
“It was a bit frustrating, just because it was the first time in eight years that I haven’t been in it,” he said. “But it was fun seeing my friends again.”
Johnson and several other skiers and snowboarders were working on a film at Brighton Ski Resort in Utah on Dec. 8 when Johnson’s injury occurred.
In a sequence in which each athlete hit a small natural feature in succession ” described by pro skier Evan Raps, who was skiing with the group, as a “three-foot dip with a lip” ” Johnson somehow fell at the front of the line.
Raps, who was in the back of the line and did not witness the accident, said by the time he reached the scene Johnson was lying on his back unconscious, with his head facing downhill. Kye Peterson, 15, had trailed Johnson, Raps said, and in following in the same line collided into him.
The collision opened a small gash above Johnson’s eyebrow and knocked him unconscious for about three to five minutes, Raps said. When Johnson awoke he seemed OK, but then became “upset” when ski patrol began securing him in a sled, Raps said. Johnson’s father Russ said acting combative after head trauma is common.
“He had a lot of emotion coming out,” Raps said. “He was trying to rip the neck brace off. It took four of them [to strap him down]. It was ugly. He was fighting real hard.”
Johnson was sedated and airlifted to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he remained in a coma until opening his eyes on Dec. 18.
When Johnson awoke on Dec. 18, he could not speak or move his arms or legs, his father Russ said. He also had developed pneumonia.
On Dec. 26 Johnson became able to sit up in bed and speak in a whisper, said his mother Lorraine, as well as eat solid food for the first time since the injury.
Shortly after, he started therapy (occupational, speech and physical), and soon progressed from having to use a wheelchair to a walker to walking under his own power.
Released from the hospital on Jan. 10 after a 34-day stay, Johnson returned to his parents’ home in Truckee and began rehabilitating with Ladd Williams, of Bear Bones Physical Therapy.
“I’m extremely glad. It’s nice to be home,” Johnson said after returning to Truckee. “I finally feel comfortable.”
Johnson said he was anything but comfortable in the unfamiliar environment of the hospital.
“It has been confusing because you go from awake at one time in one spot, then you wake up again and you’re in a whole different spot,” he said after his stay. “I was never too stoked [after waking up from the coma] because I was so disoriented …
“I’d wake up in the middle of the night and look at my surroundings and not know where I was. It was completely disorienting.”
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After COVID-19 disrupted events across the Truckee-Tahoe area, the region’s premier competitive events are back in full swing.