Gustafson: A pantheon of local superheroes to the rescue | AspenTimes.com
Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Back to: Snowmass

Gustafson: A pantheon of local superheroes to the rescue

Forget about superstrength, laser vision, or the ability to leap small buildings in a single bound, superheroes now exist in real life for my 5-year-old.

I personally have an affinity for the Flash, the collection of comics we had around the house growing up included an original Showcase No. 4, where the Flash makes his debut and in his words explains, "Life doesn't give us purpose. We give life purpose." For me this quote resonates more now then ever before.

It is true, I catch myself on occasion, like a huge superhero geek, quoting catchphrases to my kids at those teachable moments in time. As Spider-Man's uncle once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." For my daughter I sometimes quote Queen Hippolyte, "Remember that, in a world of ordinary mortals, you are a Wonder Woman."

And there are others that I pullout on occasion; they can be wise and inspirational, and they also keep me from taking my own parenting too seriously.

I authored a series of funny stories about "Octo-Stink" for my kids and they laugh themselves to tears while listening to how this super smelly hero saves the day with his offensive olfactory offense.

I once even wondered about my own superpowers. As a kid, jumping on my parent's bed, brandishing my yellow yarn Lasso of Truth and dressed in powder-blue long-underwear beneath my Wonder Woman swimsuit, I learned that I definitely couldn't fly — no broken bones, but tears were shed. Fortunately my own superhero parents were quick to respond to my injuries.

Unfortunately there is nothing funny about the powerless feeling that occurs while watching your own child get hurt.

Last ski season I watched helplessly as my daughter collided with her buddy in the small terrain park. They looked like two rag dolls flung up in the air, landing in a tangled heap of poles and tears. She was fine, but I still cringe at the image in my mind.

But watching the contortion my 5-year-old son recently endured up near Elk Camp will be burned into my brain for life. He went first into an emergency oversized wedge to avoid a collision and his right leg rotated all the way around. His little skies — now facing opposite directions but parallel to one another — were helplessly twisted. Now facing uphill and looking right at me, he gave a fearful grimace and toppled over the edge of the run, twisting and, yes, breaking his right leg. I was holding him in less than a second, and he was already screaming, "Mommy, I broke my leg."

As I did my best to comfort him, the late afternoon winter winds began whipping up a gray flurry and it set in just how empty and silent and dark the hills had become. I began to realize that we had, in fact, jumped on the last lift of the day to squeeze in one final run. The rest of our group had long since cruised out of sight and we were nearly the last ones on the slope.

Panic didn't set right in, I knew I had my phone, not sure exactly who I would have called as my go-to crew were all skiing down together with my daughter.

And then, skiing toward us through the thick swirls of snow, came a group of ski-instructors sweeping the slopes at the day's end. Much like the arrival of the comic book and Marvel movie heroes we so adore — out of the mist, bursting through the clouds or swinging down from the sky just in the nick of time — their arrival felt somewhat marvelous at that moment.

It was obvious we needed help and they all stopped. One instructor, Jimmy, quickly called ski patrol and offered to stay with us until they arrived. As the others headed off, he focused his attention on giving me sound advice and calming my son with jokes and distraction.

Because it was late in the day and most were on already their way down, it took a while for a ski patroller to reach us. But as soon as patroller Mike arrived, my son's spirits lifted. You see, while I make a stink about superheroes, my son regularly plays ski patroller at home along with his sister who pretends to be June the rescue dog. So for him, these guys are his personal superheroes. Despite his pain level and the now frigid temps, my son was still a little starstruck. Mike was great and so compassionate. He worked quickly to get a splint on and had him calm, snug and secured into the toboggan in no time.

With weather setting in fast and the likelihood of a bumpy, even scary ride for my little guy, he decided to call for a snowmobile and trailer. Once Pete arrived, they hoisted him on and we were on our way down.

When we finally reached the Fanny Hill clinic and the team had my son on his way in on a stretcher, the reality of just how cold I was finally hit me. My shaking hands could barley unbuckle my boots and I could hardly speak through all my chattering and shivering.

Nothing but relief and comfort flooded over me when so many friendly and familiar faces greeted us. The medical team had my son warm and comfortable inside before I reached him. And soon, the next wave of heroic efforts began. With the rescue accomplished, he now had an amazing team of medical pros caring for him.

My story, though dramatic for us, is far from unique, but that's what makes it so amazing. I had never stopped to consider just how many people it takes to save an injured skier, and I was so impressed experiencing firsthand how our pantheon of local superheroes came through from the top to the bottom as a fine-tuned system. I'm sure it takes an altruistic heart to make these endeavors your life's work and my gratitude is overwhelming for our on-and- off-mountain heroes.

All told, we were saved, rescued, comforted and cared for by more then 25 amazing people throughout the course of that event. And a thank you really isn't enough. But if I could, I would say thank you to each person along the way, from our first point superhero instructor, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and saw us through the toughest moments and then vanished on his way, to the ski patrollers who got us down safely and the medical team at the Snowmass Clinic — the nurses, doctors and X-ray technicians who made it not just bearable but even fun for my son. Thank you also to the incredibly skilled Aspen Valley Hospital PRN and Aspen Orthopedic doctor who not only answered my bombardment of questions while carefully and expertly setting my son's full leg cast, but as a Snowmass resident, even offered to help me carry my little guy into the house later that night. And to all the Aspen Valley Hospital staff members who searched in vain to find my son a teal-colored wrapping. The light green that they finally came up with is more then sufficient, thanks for trying! Thank you also to the ER check-in staff who helped him cover his cast in animal stickers and carried him to the car. And thanks to my own personal superhero, my dad, who met us at the clinic, drove us to the hospital and stayed with us along the way! "Grandpa," my son said, "is also my hero."

We sometimes forget that there are so many ordinary people who have devoted their lives to helping others. And we may even take for granted that there will be those who see someone in need and set aside their own needs to help.

I don't really know exactly what I would have done, or how much worse that event could have become without all those heroes. The Flash would have us believe that, "It's not being a hero, its just doing the right thing," but we were still saved. And our simple mortal struggles are a huge reminder that there are superheroes all around us.

Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.