From hospital bed to skis, St. X grad’s tenacity paying off shared by

, | December 28, 2015


High Five #HighFivesAthlete Jim Harris!

#HighFivesAthlete Jim Harris
#HighFivesAthlete Jim Harris. (Photo: Provided by Allison Schwam)

Jim Harris looked up into the Wasatch Mountains of Utah on a day in late November.

Exactly one year before, the Cincinnati native suffered a devastating spinal injury in Chile that left him paralyzed.

Yet there he stood, 365 days later, on skis for the first time since his accident.

Harris used to do things most people couldn’t fathom. He climbed through entire cave systems, barreled down mountains and plunged into ferocious whitewater. He once tracked wolverines in Mongolia for National Geographic.

Having carved out a life as an adventure photographer, he did these things camera in hand.

That first day back on skis, Harris accomplished little turns on a slight pitch of snow.

He described the act as “euphoric” but also “poignant.”

Looking up at the mountain, “I realized how literally and figuratively far I am from being able to move through that terrain that I’m so attached to,” Harris said.

“I’ve gotten good at not dwelling on those kind of realizations though,” Harris continued. “Instead I focus on how much joy I get from an activity as silly as sliding on snow and from the amazing network of family and friends supporting my recovery.”

It hadn’t always been clear whether Harris would make it this far.

His life took this dramatic turn in South America on Nov. 24, 2014, when he and two other men were about to begin a 350-mile expedition, skiing and rafting across Patagonia, a region along the border of Chile and Argentina.

It was a blustery day, and Harris lost control when a gust of wind grabbed his kite, propelled him forward and slammed his body repeatedly into the ground. When it was over, the 33-year-old couldn’t move his legs.

Ten vertebrae in his spine were fractured, causing nerve damage.

Chilean surgeons wanted to operate immediately, but his comrades managed to get medical images to a childhood friend of Harris’, a doctor at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, who showed the images to surgeons here.

They advised him to get home as quickly as possible. It took a few terrifying days, but he made it back and into surgery.

Harris began rehabilitation at Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care and then transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, which specializes on helping young athletes with spinal injuries.

He improved day after day, taking his first steps on his own in May.

Harris left Craig Hospital in June, moving to California for continued rehab with High Fives Foundation, a nonprofit started by Roy Tuscany, a man who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2006 and raises money for injured athletes.

It was the same organization that paid thousands of dollars to fly Harris to Craig Hospital.

Harris can once again ride a bike and now can drive, using his left foot.

He’s back doing “boring adult life-skills” that he hadn’t missed but gets satisfaction from doing on his own, such as grocery shopping, washing the car and making the bed.

Harris got a job, too. He’s now program and creative director for 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale, Colorado, where the Amberley Village native now lives.

“That mostly means I get to pick the films that get shown and to design posters and websites,” Harris said. “It’s much different than my freelance business, but overlaps since I’m still involved in the adventure-film community.”

Carbondale, a small mountain town of about 6,500 residents, has a surprising number of Cincinnati expats, Harris said.

“I’m up to six people who like to make Bengals and Skyline Chili references when we cross paths now,” Harris said.

Harris will continue to work on balance, strength and endurance, and said he remains devoted to finding opportunities to continue his passion of adventure storytelling.

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