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Living to Climb Again

On Oct. 6, 2013, Dan Carpenter and three of his friends finished up their weekend-long trip to Red River Gorge, Ky., with one final climb. This weekend was the first time Carpenter had climbed outside, but he said he felt confident about what he was doing.

“I wasn’t double-checking my systems while I was up there, kind of going through the works, getting ready to repel down, and I basically didn’t give myself enough rope to repel on,” Carpenter said.

“It was a 70-foot route, and I repelled about ten feet, then felt my stomach just kind of drop, like that feeling you get when you’re free-falling.”

Carpenter said he looked to the left, and remembered seeing everything go by really quickly. He woke up on his back, breathing heavily, with people asking him questions, until EMTs took him by helicopter to West Virginia.

“I broke five ribs, my left lung collapsed, and I fractured my right heel,” Carpenter said. “I should have been dead. The X-rays show that the rib fractures were just millimeters away from being spinal fractures.”

Carpenter’s quick recovery left many—including doctors—to comment on his luck.

“There was part of me that felt guilty,” Carpenter said. “Honestly, I think a lot of it is going to take a lot of time to sink in. It will probably be something that I will go back to the rest of my life and think about and be grateful and thankful for.”

A month later, Carpenter returned to Ball State, and in late January he completed his first climb since the accident.

“It felt really weird,” Carpenter said. “It also felt really hard because I had gotten really, really weak. I was really tired. I thought, this is going to take a while to get back into. It wasn’t scary. I didn’t feel nervous. It was just good to know that I could get back on the horse, and this wasn’t removed from my life.”

Although this is the only time that Carpenter has been climbing since that afternoon in October, he said he plans to continue climbing.

“I think it will take a while to get back into,” Carpenter said. “I think it will take some more mental strength and willpower to climb outside. That could take a while, but I do want to keep climbing.”

Despite the obstacles that Carpenter has had to overcome, and the obstacles he will continue to face, he said he wants to continue rock climbing because it is like nothing else he has ever done.

“You get to climb 70 feet in the air with friends and just have fun doing that,” Carpenter said. “Also, (you) take in such beautiful surroundings, and actually get to touch them and go 70 feet up them. It can be really hard and challenging, and everyone who does it knows that.”

Carpenter sees his experience as a chance to live more fully. He said that he feels as if he has been given a second chance to live with purpose.

“It was really interesting how small things became really big things,” Carpenter said. “I can see this, and I can hear it, and I’m laughing, and I can understand and I can eat this food and taste it, and it tastes really good. I can walk, and run and I can climb again. Those are very much blessings that I overlook all the time and take for granted. Sometimes I still do. It’s so easy to take walking for granted. It’s always something that brings me back down to earth.”

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