Emmalee Ross is a friend of High Fives Athlete Taylor Fiddyment. “Emma” as she goes by, is currently attending Sacramento State University. She wrote the following story for a class…
Taylor Fiddyment is not your average 19-year-old girl. A Truckee, California native, Fiddyment – a self-proclaimed tomboy as a kid – sits in the lobby at High Fives Foundation. Glimpses of her tomboy past show up in her blue jeans and her large, flannel, long-sleeved shirt. It’s a cold November day in Truckee. While making faces at the guy wearing a red trucker hat in an office across the lobby, Fiddyment grabs her leg from the calf, lifting her bare foot to her lap as she slips on her blue knit boot; she gently lowers the limp leg back into place. Fiddyment has been confined to a wheel-chair for over two years. Before she was in a wheel chair, however, Fiddyment prayed for a trial to test her faith in God. Months later, Fiddyment got more than what she thought she bargained for.
Her light eyes gloss over and her gaze grows distant as she recalls the accident on May 28, 2011. Fiddyment, with fair skin and dirty blonde hair, was only 17 years old. While camping with friends and families from church, she went quad riding for the day with her friend. An experienced rider, Fiddyment knew what she was doing. The playground, as she called it, was a spot near their campsite with a lot of jumps and berms. Fiddyment had been riding the same spot for a few hours and was using the berm, a U-shaped wall, to change directions.
As she picked up speed Fiddyment lurched forward on her quad racing towards the berm like she had been doing all day. Her friend, out of sight, was riding jumps farther away. As she reached the top of the berm, the quad caught the lip of the wall and began to tip over. Knowing that you are supposed to jump off the rolling side of the quad, she attempted to do so. The quad had a different plan, however, throwing her into the bowl of the berm she landed on her butt with her legs out in front of her.
The rider-less vehicle fell down the wall of the berm and headed straight toward Fiddyment. Smashing her face to her knees and her chest to her thighs, the quad rolled over her flattening her completely into the dirt. It continued to roll and landed upright as if nothing or no one had been its way.
Fiddyment knew her back was broken the moment it happened. As she lay there alone, scared, in pain and covered in dirt, she prayed.
“I thought I was dying. My body was in shock and I just started praying and crying out to God and this huge wave of peace came over me,” says Fiddyment leaning forward as though she had a great secret. “This is kind of crazy and awesome, I stopped panicking and everything was clear. I just heard God tell me that he’ll take care of everything. He said, ‘I got this’.”
Fiddyment didn’t try to move her legs. She didn’t want it to hurt anymore than it already did; she knew she needed to be still.
“Honestly I don’t know how I knew that. I had never experienced back injury and I had never had a medical injury, but I didn’t want to move and I didn’t let anyone move me,” Fiddyment says.
From a campground away, a woman saw the crash. “You need to go check that out,” she said to her boyfriend, “that looked bad.”
As the man reached Fiddyment he dialed 911 and relayed information from the dispatcher to Fiddyment – but she only had one thing on her mind.
“I need to pray with you,” Fiddyment said. “Hold on a second,” said the man while still on the phone. “No. NOW!” said Fiddyment as she grabbed his hand and started praying.
Soon after, Fiddyment’s friend returned and raced to camp to get help. In no time most of the camp surrounded her motionless body in the dirt.
“I was trying to crack jokes and stuff because everyone was so scared,” Fiddyment says. “I just really didn’t want them to panic because if they started panicking I knew I would.”
When the ambulance arrived Taylor was not most concerned about the pain, or her broken back, but something else was on her mind. “Umm excuse me, did I pee my pants?” Taylor asked the EMT after she was safe inside the ambulance where her friends could not hear. “No, you are good,” he said. “Oh thank you Jesus,” said Fiddyment.
Fiddyment believes God watched over her, looking out for all her needs. “And I feel like God took care of even that, because I had just gone pee like half an hour before,” says Fiddyment.
Care flight came to pick up Fiddyment because the ambulance was too bumpy for her fragile body. It was the first time she had ever been given morphine and it knocked her out for the rest of the flight.
Roy Tuscany sits behind his desk in a cramped office full of stacked papers and boxes at High Fives Foundation. Underneath his red trucker hat, dark hair sticks out in every direction like a cartoon character. Tuscany is the founder of the Truckee-based foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping winter sport athletes who have been seriously injured, overcome their injury and pursue life to the fullest capacity.
In 2006, Tuscany was a 24-year-old aspiring pro skier, having skied since he was eight years old. After enduring a skiing accident where he fractured his T-12 vertebrae into his spine, doctors told him that he would never walk again. A month and a half later he walked out of the hospital. “The big thing was I always thought it was going to get better,” says Tuscany. “I always told myself it was going to get better because I thought, it can’t get worse.”
When Tuscany had recovered to what he thought was a strong point in 2009 – when he was back on his skis – he decided he wanted to start High Fives Foundation. “I knew I needed to say thank you to all the people that helped me and pay it forward to them,” Tuscany says. “So I created the foundation from the community of support that came to me.” High Fives Foundation has helped 52 athletes through the recovery process. Fiddyment was number 22.
It was a normal Saturday afternoon at the Fiddyment house. Tami Fiddyment, Taylor’s mom, was getting ready for her 3 o’clock shift at the Hampton Inn in Truckee when she got a phone call from a family friend at the campground saying Taylor had been in an accident.
“I thought okay, it was just a broken arm or something, maybe…but even that, you just don’t go there,” says Tami.
Taking a deep breath she asked, “How bad is it?”
“She’s okay,” said the friend. “The ambulance is on its way.”
“Well how bad is it?” asked Tami, “What’s going on if the ambulance is coming? How bad is it?”
The friend explained that they were headed towards a hospital in Reno and she would call Tami back with more information.
Tami took another large breath. She immediately got down on her hands and knees in her living room and began to pray. She then got in the car and started driving towards Reno.
Tears flowed as Tami sped to the hospital. “Once I laid eyes on her I felt better,” she said. “I felt like I was prepared by the time I got in the door.”
“Mom, don’t you cry,” said Fiddyment as she saw the terror in her mom’s eyes as her mom walked toward her. “Honey, I’m done crying,” said Tami. “I’m here for you.” After being through so much on her own, Fiddyment finally broke down and began to cry.
“Taylor and I have the same thing, it’s either a gift or a curse I’m not sure which,” says Tami. “The adrenaline takes over and you can just function, you’re in go mode, then you fall apart after the fact.”
After seeing her mom for a short time, Fiddyment was taken away to get CT scans done. Her doctors informed her that she broke her T-11 and T-12 vertebrae causing her spinal cord to make an S-shape.
Fiddyment went into an 8-10 hour surgery in order to put all the pieces of her spinal cord back into place. The doctors told her that because of the damage she had, she would never walk again. “Their goal wasn’t to help me walk again in that surgery, it was just to get things back anatomically where they needed to be,” says Fiddyment.
For less severe injuries, doctors will hold off on performing surgery for three to six months to let the shock wear off and for the swelling to go down. Most of the time movement will come back. “We were waiting and hoping and kind of holding our breath a little bit,” says Fiddyment. “And nothing came back and nothing changed.”
After her surgery, Fiddyment had to be moved to her own room because she had so many visitors during all visiting hours. “Pretty much anybody I ever met was there,” says Fiddyment. Even the police chief came to see her. “He was this giant man with giant hands, and he laid them on me and prayed,” says Fiddyment. “It was so cool.”
Amongst all the visitors who started coming in to see Fiddyment in the hospital, one visitor changed the course of her life forever.
“Hey Tay!” yelled Roy Tuscany, as Fiddyment was being wheeled on a cot to the shower. Fiddyment, wearing nothing but a towel, shook his hand and said, “Sorry we have to meet like this.” Tuscany told her that when she was all better she needed to come hang out at High Fives and they would get her skiing.
“And he’s kept that promise,” says Fiddyment. “Just the fact that I know how busy he is now – and I don’t think he’s gotten less busy – he took his own time to come and see me in the hospital. That meant a lot.”
Originally, Fiddyment didn’t qualify to be a High Fives athlete and receive support from the foundation because she was hurt outside of the winter sport. But because she was already a part of the Truckee community, Tuscany wanted to help her. “Once she made the decision that she wanted to pursue a dream in the winter sports and start active skiing, that’s how she qualified for a grant,” said Tuscany.
Making it a point to never say no to trying new things, Fiddyment was up for the challenge when Tuscany talked to her about skiing. “Skiing was something that I could do by myself and nobody had to help me or push me around,” says Fiddyment. “I could do it with friends and they didn’t have to worry about me.”
Fiddyment went skiing a few times during the 2012/2013 winter season but ended up dislocating her shoulder on the last run of the day. She has been rehabbing with her trainer at High Fives since last season.
Tuscany says Fiddyment is gearing up for a big ski season this year, increasing her strength a hundred fold since she first started at High Fives. “I saw her start out as an individual with a very scrawny body figure, without any muscular physique and now she comes in here and I’m like, ‘put those guns away, like you are illegal, get out of here, you cannot be having guns like that,’” Tuscany says. “So she’s incredible that she can do that.”
Along with support and training, High Fives also facilitates Fiddyment meeting other people with similar stories. “A lot of people in chairs who I just adore,” Fiddyment says. “And it’s nice because regular friends – I know they love me – but they just will never understand this aspect of my life.”
Fiddyment said she’s thankful that God is the biggest part of her life and not the fact that she’s in a wheel chair…and she’s not shy about sharing that with anyone she’s around. “She has a very high belief in religion and we give her a hard time about that in a very positive, joking type of way,” says Tuscany. “She is hilarious and throws it right back at us. She’s also incredibly witty and not afraid to speak her own mind. She’s really a person that you want on your side.”
Another big reason Fiddyment was willing to accept the challenge of skiing was because of her boyfriend Johnny Bochenek. Bochenek is a competitive skier, having traveled all over for competitions, including New Zealand. “Johnny was very instrumental in the decision,” says Fiddyment.
Bochenek and Fiddyment were not dating, but only friends at the time of her accident, but she knew he was someone she could rely on. “Johnny was good at helping me sort out my feelings and help me see reality of like, this is not the worst thing that could happen. Look around you, this is not the worst thing.”
Bochenek says his favorite quality about Fiddyment is her determination. “When she decides she wants to do something she pretty much goes for it,” says Bochenek. And he watched that determination all through her recovery process, even when times were hard.
“There were times in the hospital where I just cried and was tired of working so hard and trying to do things where before I didn’t even have to think about,” Fiddyment says. “But God just provided, he gave me so much peace and put people around me that would just give me so much perspective.”
Fiddyment only remembers one time she was really angry at God for allowing this to happen to her. “And that was because I’ve noticed a trend, that when I don’t read my Bible things just kind of fall apart,” says Fiddyment. During her recovery process at home, Fiddyment says she was robotically going through the motions, where her mom was with her every step of the way.
“I didn’t always know what to say except I was there, I was in it with her and that I would do whatever she asked of me,” says Taylor’s mom, Tami. “She has had her moments, but without exaggeration, that’s about all they are…moments. She can have a really bad day and I just tell her to take a deep breath and just move on, and she’s just like Taylor again. She’s like ‘okay, let’s go. I’m done mom, I’m ok.’”
Fiddyment says her accident happened for many reasons. “I don’t know how I could possibly think it was just an accident,” Fiddyment says. When she prayed for a trial, being in a wheel chair never crossed her mind and she knew nothing about spinal cord injury. “God showed me so much about myself, I definitely got the growth I was asking for. I’ve met so many people and I don’t want to say I had an impact on their life, but kind of. I want to help people be better, but in a humble way,” says Fiddyment with a laugh. “I never want to feel like I’m better than anybody because I’ve suffered a hard thing.”
The whole accident has indeed been humbling according to Fiddyment, giving her compassion towards people having a bad day – having known bad days herself. “I think God took care of it,” says Fiddyment. “He kind of just told me what you’re going through is just a different version of what other people go through. Yours is losing your legs while other people lose family members, or their sanity, or their fight against cancer, or their fight against addictions. Everybody has struggles, and this is yours.”