Summit for Life returns with two new Bounce Back, Give Back award winners
What: 13th annual Summit for Life uphill race
Where: Aspen Mountain
When: Race start is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. near the gondola
Why: The race supports the nonprofit Chris Klug Foundation
How: Go to www.summitforlife.org for more.
The litmus test Brian Hinsley used to determine how his day went was if he could get out of bed and shave his beard. Some days went well, some left only one cheek groomed, while others left him bedridden.
Then, one day in 2000, his doctor walked into the hospital room and said something that literally saved his life.
“I’ll never forget those words: ‘You are going to live,’” Hinsley recalled Friday in Aspen. “I remember jumping up out of bed, and saying, ‘Let’s go.’ I just had this renewed energy.”
Hinsley, a retired firefighter and paramedic from Southern California, received his liver transplant soon after, ending a long, two-year wait for the life-saving organ. About six months later, he was back at work. He was even featured in a short documentary prior to his transplant.
Saturday night, more than 18 years after his transplant, Hinsley will take part in the 13th-annual Summit for Life uphill race on Aspen Mountain. He, along with fellow California resident Samantha Rick, are this year’s fifth-annual Bounce Back, Give Back award winners, handed out by the Chris Klug Foundation, which puts on the race.
The awards recognize “two organ transplant recipients who exhibit a great quality of life,” according to the foundation’s website. The Aspen-based organization is named after founder Chris Klug, an Olympic snowboarder and liver transplant recipient.
The race, which is a dark, cold 2.5-mile jaunt up 3,200 snow-covered vertical feet, is the culmination of a weekend centered on recipients like Hinsley and Rick. There is a post-race party at the Sundeck.
“Once you’ve lived like this, you don’t want anyone ever to suffer like this,” the 59-year-old Hinsley said. “At that moment I told myself when I get out of here, I am going to give back in whatever capacity I can so somebody like me who is waiting and maybe even dying, won’t.”
Hinsley, who said he was in “fantastic shape” and at the peak of his life, was 30 when he was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, which led to his liver failure. He fought the illness for 10 years before receiving his transplant.
For Rick, she was only 3 when she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It wasn’t until her late 20s that her lungs finally began to fail on her. At 30, she was told she would die if she didn’t get a double lung transplant.
“Within a few months I had dropped down to about 85 pounds and lost about 70 percent of my lung function,” said Rick, who finally got her lung transplant in 2011. “Everything was good. Recovery went well. For about five years everything went smoothly.”
Then, it all went south again. She was diagnosed with parathyroid cancer, which the doctors quickly took care of, around the same time her relatively new lungs started to reject her body. In October 2016, she had her second double lung transplant, itself a rarity, and now finds herself snowboarding in Aspen and enjoying life again.
“I was always pretty active, even as a kid,” Rick recalled. “And I think that’s what kind of prolonged my lungs for lasting for so long. I wasn’t even hospitalized until I was in the eighth grade the first time, and most people with CF are hospitalized all throughout their lives. I was lucky it wasn’t super progressive until I got older.”
Rick, an alternative sentencing case manager who lives in the Sierra Nevadas, said staying active, and especially mountain biking, has helped her regain health in the two years since her second transplant. She even mentioned how she had recently found her first gray hair, something most 38-year-olds would find horrifying.
For Rick, she is simply happy to have lived long enough for such a thing to be possible. Sitting next to her, the outspoken Hinsley joked about his jealously, as his own head was bald — save the mustache — a byproduct of his illness.
Hair or not, the two are bound together this weekend in Aspen in a way neither of them could have imagined.
“We’ve known a lot of people that have died waiting,” said Hinsley, who had his wife, Kim, and daughter, Megan, by his side. “So that’s been kind of our mission. We, as a family, love to show up together. It doesn’t just affect me and us. There is a husband, there is a wife, there is a family member that benefits from you being alive.”
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