Tarver talks about injuries, rehabilitation
March 15, 2002
Charlie Tarver is on the long road to recovery, but in a phone conversation from the rehab unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, he first wants to know if it’s snowing in Aspen.
Once the affirmative response is given, he’s ready to answer a few questions. Tarver sometimes speaks in a low mumble, but he jokes about the seriousness of his head injury, even though the owner of the Hub of Aspen bike shop and former mayoral candidate is relearning how to do things like dialing a phone.
And he’s already been back on a bike – a stationary bike – with the help of his physical therapists.
Tarver gives an optimistic outlook on his medical condition, but says the mental gymnastics he must do every day are exhausting, and frustrating.
“Fortunately, I’m going to be OK,” he says. “My body is going to be fine, but if you ask a bunch of questions quickly, I’ll have a problem. My head injury will [improve] over time, but I’m surprised at what I can or can’t do. I’m more bummed out that things aren’t working out. If my leg doesn’t work, I’m mad because I want it to work, not because it doesn’t work.”
Just 17 days ago, Tarver flew over the handlebars of his bicycle and landed headfirst while speeding down the Slot speed course at Snowmass Ski Area. He was participating in a speed demonstration at the U.S. Speed Skiing National Championships and was near the end of the course when the accident occurred.
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Tarver was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and then airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, where he remained in a coma for several days. Hospital representatives said Tarver was diagnosed with a “closed head injury,” which indicated that when his head hit the ground, his brain hit the inside of his skull, causing hemorrhaging.
Does Tarver remember the day or the accident that drastically changed his life? Not at all.
“I remember 11 a.m. the day before,” he says. “But I don’t even remember waking up in the hospital. It’s like looking back through a fog.”
He joked that his doctors tell him the medical term for what happened was that he “knocked the shit out of his head.”
But soon after he regained consciousness, Tarver’s condition was upgraded from serious to fair, and he was moved out of the intensive care unit. His daily schedule is now regimented with physical therapy.
“I wake up, write out a day plan and go to therapy – physical and mental, everything from putting on socks to riding a bike,” he says. “I’m learning to be a third-grader again. I do that for a few hours, I have lunch and then I go in to do it again for three hours. I get a break, and then I go back.”
Although Tarver also broke his clavicle and a rib and had a partially collapsed lung after the accident, he says those injuries are “easy.”
“They hurt so little compared to not remembering names,” he says. “It’s the simple things that drive you nuts.
“It’s depressing – you know you know how to do this, and you shouldn’t have to be taught. I have spent an hour just trying to dial a phone, and that’s very frustrating.”
He says his vision seems blurred, and he compares his memory loss to walking downstairs to do something, but forgetting what he’s there for when he gets there.
“Other people do it all the time and think, ‘Why am I here?'” he says. “I go into my mind for things, and there’s nothing there. They’re teaching me how to rebuild those areas of my brain, and I’m working hard on that right now. Physically, I’m even better.”
Tarver has raced downhill on his mountain bike in previous years, but he cannot remember how many times he has done it before. He was wearing a helmet, and he says, “If you don’t fall, it’s all OK. But if you fall, you’re fucked.”