Tarver back in Aspen after life-threatening bike wreck
March 29, 2002
One of Aspen’s top cycling enthusiasts and salesmen is back on the job.
Charlie Tarver, who suffered a life-threatening brain injury last month when he crashed a specially equipped bicycle on a speed skiing course, has been back in town since last Friday – and at work since Tuesday.
Tarver’s speech is slightly slurred, he wears a patch over one eye, his short-term memory is shot, and he’s given up all hope of racing this summer.
But he was greeting customers yesterday at The Hub of Aspen, the bicycle and winter sports equipment store he owns at the edge of the Hyman Avenue mall. And he was even making a few calls to vendors, trying to make up for time lost during his month-long stay in the hospital.
Although he is up and about at work, the enthusiastic outdoorsman is having to readjust to a more serene daily routine while his brain and body recover.
“Most of my summer is scheduled around races, and that’s all gone,” Tarver said, perched on a chair just inside the front door of The Hub. “But that’s OK – it’s better to be alive.”
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Tarver was injured on Feb. 26 when he crashed on the speed skiing course down Slot, a run in the Sam’s Knob area of Snowmass Ski Area. He was fore-running the course on a bicycle as a demonstration in the run up to the U.S. National Speed Skiing Championships.
He was clocked at speeds above 95 mph shortly before he lost control near the bottom of the course. The trauma to his head put Tarver into a coma. He also suffered broken ribs, a partially collapsed lung and a broken clavicle.
The early prognosis wasn’t good. Those close to Tarver said doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction weren’t sure when or even if he would come out of his coma, nor what kind of condition he would be in if he did wake up.
But Tarver showed signs of consciousness just a few days after the accident, and by March 6, just eight days after the accident, he was speaking. His recovery progressed rapidly enough that last Friday he talked his way out of the hospital.
The isolation – Tarver estimates he spent 20 hours a day by himself – made him anxious to leave the hospital.
“They wanted me to stay for two or three more weeks, but we negotiated it down so I could go home after a week,” Tarver said of discussions with doctors at St. Mary’s earlier this month. “They let me come home only if I do certain things.”
Those things include a fairly rigorous rehabilitation schedule and strict limits on the amount of time he spends at work and in volunteer activities. Also, he’s not allowed to ride his bicycle.
Tarver spent an hour at work on Tuesday, two hours on Wednesday and four on Thursday. His duties have been limited, mostly to greeting. He compared himself to the greeters who work the doors at Wal-Mart stores around the country. He said he takes occasional walks around the mall.
Tarver is living with a friend whose house is within walking distance of The Hub. He has someone to keep an eye on him and assist with physical tasks that are still impossible to do because of his injuries, although, Tarver says, he has been able to tackle most common daily tasks, such as bathing and getting around the house, without assistance.
Tarver is wearing a black eye patch, which he shifts from one eye to the other throughout the day. Both eyes work well independently, but when one isn’t covered he sees double images. Switching the patch back and forth keeps his eyes at equal strength. Doctors have not been able to give Tarver any real idea when his eyes will work normally.
The other highly noticeable impact of the accident is Tarver’s short-term memory loss. Tarver remembers the names of friends and acquaintances, but he has trouble recalling what happened just a few minutes or a few months ago.
“I can remember 1066. Not that I was alive then. But the Normans were cranky one day,” he said. If you ask him who left the store a few minutes prior, however, he’ll tell you he can’t recall.
Tarver credits his employees – Bob Penland, Jeff Przonek, Tim Stokes, Ed Koh and Melissa Roth – for covering while he has been gone. “I’m trying to figure how to get them some time off,” Tarver said.
Penland said springtime at The Hub is the busiest time of year as ski season merges into bicycle season. “Charlie normally has a long list of duties – he’s not just a greeter,” Penland said. “Although greeter is probably high on the list.”