The ski accident of former Formula One race car driver Michael Schumacher in France during the holidays rekindled debate about the value of ski helmets. For Sally Francklyn, there is no debate.
Francklyn is emphatic that a helmet saved her life in an accident in which she suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Schumacher is fighting for his life after suffering a brain injury while wearing a helmet. His accident has sparked media scrutiny about helmet use.
The New York Times recently reported that 70 percent of skiers and snowboarders wear helmets, but there has been no reduction in the numbers of fatalities or brain injuries, citing figures from the National Ski Areas Association.
Francklyn was skiing expert terrain in the backcountry at Jackson Hole on March 24, 2012, when she fell at the top of a steep pitch and rocketed downhill like a bobsled. By the time she came to a rest 900 vertical feet below, she had suffered a skull fracture, broken neck, broken back and a broken ankle among her injuries. Her helmet blew apart, as it was designed to do. She was taken off the mountain in one helicopter, then evacuated to a hospital in a different Flight For Life.
She spent 11 days in a medically induced coma, underwent two surgeries and was hospitalized for 10 weeks before advancing to intensive outpatient physical therapy. Her recovery, she concedes, continues as a very slow process.
A short film was made of her ordeal. It will be one of the featured events Saturday at 5Point Film Festival’s Aspen 2014 program at the Wheeler Opera House. Doors will open at 6 p.m. The evening program starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Wheeler.
The film, “The Sally Francklyn Story,” is by Stept Studios in cooperation with the High Fives Foundation, which raises money and awareness for athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury in winter sports.
Francklyn is a prototypical Colorado native. She grew up in Colorado Springs and fell in love with skiing on family outings to a cabin in the mountains. She joined the Copper Mountain Ski Patrol as a teenager and worked there over 10 seasons.
She worked as online editor for Skiing and Ski Magazine. One of her roles was providing advice on video about what resorts were best bets for coming weekends. Archival footage features Francklyn with long blond hair flowing from beneath a stocking cap and a near-constant smile.
Her career in the ski industry took her to New Zealand, Chile and other international destinations and allowed her to hone her skills. She was an accomplished expert skier at the time of her accident and was rarely daunted by a slope.
“Sally was just a shooting star in her field,” said Reg Francklyn, her dad. He has helped immensely in Sally’s recovery, from riding a tandem bicycle with her to taking her cross-country skiing.
Sally aims to alpine ski again (she has gone downhill on telemark skis), though she knows she will never return to her prior skill level. She has partial paralysis on her right side, forcing her to become left-handed.
She hasn’t turned against the sport she loves because of the bad accident. In an interview from Boulder, where she works as an intern for Dynafit and shares an apartment with a friend, Franklyn said she admires the spirit that skiers and snowboarders bring to the sport. The best among them are trying new feats and pushing themselves to get better. What makes her cringe is when she sees pro skiers on the slopes without helmets.
“My main message is to wear a helmet,” Sally said. “If you have a bad accident, it can help save your life.”
Her one concern beyond helmet use, she acknowledged, is that half-pipes are getting so big and they allow skiers and snowboarders to perform such incredible — and risky — maneuvers that she fears for the participants’ safety. The half-pipes need to be smaller, she said.
Francklyn said she looks forward to returning to Aspen, where her career brought her many times and where she still has many friends. Aspen Highlands is her favorite of the Aspen ski areas, she said.
She is contemplating whether she will make a presentation at the 5Point Film event in Aspen, but she and her dad will take questions after the film.
Julie Kennedy, founder and director of 5Point Film Festival, said she was inspired immediately when one of her staff showed her the film about Francklyn’s accident and recovery.
“I said, ‘Boy, we’ve got to get Sally,’” Kennedy said. “She is so one of us.”
She was living a mountain lifestyle oriented around skiing, like so many people in the Roaring Fork Valley, Kennedy said. The injuries she suffered could happen to anyone with a passion for the mountains and skiing.
“We’re not immune to that kind of incident,” Kennedy said.
Reg said he and his daughter aren’t out on a speaking circuit to talk about her injury and recovery, though they do encourage support for High Fives Foundation. Their appearance at Aspen is a rare engagement. He also is an accomplished skier and mountaineer. Like Sally, his goal isn’t to tell skiers and snowboarders what to do and what to avoid. Participants in the sport know the dangers, he said.
Reg just wants to make sure people assess what they are doing and think of the consequences if they encounter difficulties.
“There’s a point in every sport where it’s worth it and it’s not worth it,” Reg said.
For more on the event, go to http://5pointfilm.org/aspen-2014-special-guests.
For more on Sally’s recovery, go to http://sallyfrancklyn.com/about/.