Kailyn Forsberg wins Sportswomen of Colorado Spirit Award

Paralyzed freeskier Kailyn Forsberg wins Sportswomen of Colorado Swede Johnson Spirits Award.

Kailyn Forsberg makes one of her first solo runs on a mono ski during her first day back on the snow since being paralyzed in a slopestyle skiing accident last year. Forsberg was photographed at Winter Park on Jan. 16, 2016. (AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)

The color drains from Kailyn Forsberg’s face. Her mom asks the question again.

“What do you mean you didn’t write a speech?” Kimberly Forsberg says.

The gentleman across the table leans over and says everyone has to give a speech. “Hey Kailyn, how’s your speech? Do you need a pen and paper?” asks her dad, Mitch.

“You guys stop. Are you kidding? Tell me you are kidding,” says 16-year-old Kailyn, grabbing for the wheels of her chair, ready to make a hasty exit when the 42nd annual Sportswomen of Colorado awards banquet swung into action Sunday evening at the Denver Marriott Tech Center.

Katy Perry’s “Roar” filled the room as an action-packed video highlighted the athleticism of 45 of Colorado’s top athletes, coaches and teams. The exceptional women were shown running, blocking shots, spiking balls, scoring goals, sinking buckets and racing across finish lines with arms high. The joshing with Kailyn is forgotten as Kimberly and Mitch dab at welling tears.

“It’s just hard to see all those girls running and using their legs,” Kimberly says.

Kailyn Forsberg practices wheelies with the assistance of her father, Mitch, at Craig Hospital in Englewood on May 12, 2015. Mitch, who started Forsberg on skis when she was just 1, says that Kailyn is the toughest person he knows. AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

In between awards for champion lacrosse players Bridget Sutter and Lucy Dikeou , Kailyn rolls her wheelchair up to the stage and accepts the Sportswomen of Colorado Swede Johnson Spirit Award, which host Marcia Neville says she earned with her “incredible drive and her incredible inspiration.”

A year ago, Kailyn was tracking toward an award for her stellar lacrosse play or her freeskiing. A naturally gifted athlete since elementary school, Kailyn seemed destined to some day drape her neck with a prestigious Sportswomen of Colorado medal.

But a crash during a practice run last April at a national freeskiing championships at Copper Mountain paralyzed her from the chest down. Her ongoing battle to recover, which includedgetting back on the slopes last month, now makes her an inspiration. She heard that all night Sunday evening as visitors leaned down to congratulate her, everyone telling her they were inspired by her grit and determination to regain her life as an athlete.

She hears that a lot, but it still surprises her.

“It’s super crazy,” she says. “It’s really nice though, knowing how many people thought of me as inspiring.”

Her fierce fight drags on even with the accolades. It can be depressing, especially for a 16-year-old who pretty much had life by the tail at this time a year ago. Where she once excelled as a phenom on the lacrosse field or the slopestyle course, she’s now starting over.

“She may be here again for monoskiing,” Kimberly says. “You never know.”

Only 11 months out from her life-altering injury, Kailyn is beginning to dabble in sports. She’s knocking around the lacrosse field with her old team at Eagle Valley High School, hoping to maybe play some kind of role. She wants to ski more. She loves shooting. The awards Sunday for Junior Olympian shooters Carson Saabye and Hailee Sigmon sparked an interest in pursuing competitive shooting.

“I feel like that would be a lot of fun,” she says.

Before her injury, her drive to compete forced her to keep her grades up. She couldn’t ski or play lacrosse with bad grades. Now, without that motivation, she’s not particularly inspired to finish her schoolwork.

“A lot of people are trying to create and re-create that fire for Kailyn,” says Mitch, the principal at Gypsum Elementary.

Last week, Kailyn went back to Craig Hospital, where she spent three months after her injury, for an evaluation. She’s regained strength in her arms and hands and her doctors say she is healthy. She’s got a new tattoo as well, a depiction of Craig’s enduring “Broken Man” on the inside of her forearm, a symbol of a person injured and made whole again.

She almost didn’t come to the banquet. Sometimes she gets down and doesn’t want to do much of anything. Watching the videos and parade of star athletes wasn’t easy.

“That’s got to be hard for Kailyn to watch,” Mitch says after seeing scenes of top lacrosse players. “This has got to be surreal for Kailyn because she was so dominant in so many sports.”

Kimberly nudged her daughter when Neville, the host, read the list of accomplishments for Paralympian Abby Farrell, an Air Force Academy sophomore whose spina bifida hasn’t stopped her from winning national championships in her mono ski and joining the national women’s wheelchair basketball team.

“I got a little teary eyed when she went up,” Kimberly says of Farrell’s Paralympic Athlete of the Year award. “I hope Kailyn was paying attention to that. That could be her some day.”

The Forsbergs realize they are in the early stage of a lifelong journey. Just as they fostered the glimpses of athletic prowess they saw in Kailyn’s youth, they celebrate today’s small victories.

“I think just being in a roomful of women athletes is good for her,” says Mitch. “For Kailyn to put herself out there and even come to this is huge.”

SPECIAL REPORT: Kailyn’s Spirit

Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, jblevins@denverpost.com or @jasonblevins

Read the full story from the Denver Post HERE

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