Athlete recovering after near-death fall
December 18, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoMOAB, Utah One of the globe’s premier female multisport athletes is alive and recovering after being stranded for 52 hours – including two nights with temperatures around 20 degrees – in the backcountry near Moab, Utah.Danelle Ballengee of Dillon, Colo. broke her pelvis in four places when she fell about 60 feet after slipping on an icy rock while trail running. She is scheduled to enter surgery today to repair her pelvic injuries at the Denver Health Rocky Mountain Regional Trauma Center.The 35-year-old, who owns a house in Moab and spends about a third of the year there, might not be alive were it not for her dog, Taz, who led search and rescue team members to her late Friday afternoon after they’d found her truck at the Amasa Back trailhead in the heart of Utah’s canyon country.”The more I think about it the more I realize how lucky I was,” Ballengee said in a phone interview from the intensive care unit Monday.”I wasn’t ready to die,” she said.A rough timeline of events goes like this: About 11 a.m. Wednesday, she drove from her house downtown to the Amasa Back Trail for a run she expected to take about an hour and 45 minutes. Around noon she was scrambling up a steep slope when she hit a patch of black ice and lost her footing; she fell an estimated 60 feet, bouncing off two ledges on her way down. When she came to rest she could barely move because of the broken pelvis, but she spent the next five hours crawling to a spot she believed might give her a better chance of rescue. There was also a small puddle of water at that spot, which proved crucial to her survival because she was able to drink from it.She yelled and yelled over the next day and a half, to no avail. It wasn’t until her neighbor became worried Thursday afternoon and called Ballengee’s parents’ home in Evergreen that any word of Ballengee missing got out.Rescuers had located her truck by midday Friday and mobilized a search party at the trailhead soon after. That was when Taz, a 3-year-old mutt, appeared and led them to Ballengee.She was airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction and later transferred to Denver Health, where her surgery is expected to begin about 10 a.m. today.”I’m nervous,” she said of the procedure, “but I think it’ll be good.”Ballengee’s athletic career includes three Primal Quest adventure race victories, four Pikes Peak Marathon wins and a wealth of honors and awards in sports ranging from snowshoeing to mountain running. She was inducted into the Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame in March.FirstBank will set up a fund in Ballengee’s name will later this week to aid in her recovery, according to her friend Pam Minard. Contributions can be made at any FirstBank location in Colorado.