Kathryn Kolesar, a Davis resident and UC Davis graduate student, went from a death-defying fall to reaching new personal goals in the span of just seven months.
The date was Aug. 28, 2012, when the first part of this 28-year-old’s inspirational story occurred. It involved a rock climbing trip to Yosemite with a friend.
“Basically, we just weren’t ready,” said Kolesar, who followed a difficult path along the Snake Dike route on Yosemite’s Half Dome. “We made lots of beginner mistakes.”
Neither of the climbers expected a piece of their equipment to slip out of the rock it was stationed in, which sent her friend — then her — plummeting 20 feet down the side of a ledge.
“Everything happened in slow motion, as everyone says,” Kolesar said. “I remember watching him fall, and thinking, ‘I just watched my friend die.’ That’s when I realized that I was going over, too.
“The next thing I saw was the ground coming at me … I fell head first, but put my hands out instinctively and rolled, and landed on all fours. I think that’s honestly what saved me.”
Another fortunate detail — if fortune can be found in such a grim situation — is that they both fell onto a sandy flat instead of the trail’s many areas of jagged rock.
Kolesar was able to find help, despite having to fight her body’s natural shock response. By chance, there happened to be two men with cell phones and water nearby to call for the park’s search and rescue unit.
“I was anticipating having to make an epic walk, or crawl, out to the main trail,” she said, “but again, we really lucked out. It was traumatic, but I also realized that I wasn’t dead, and it would only get better.”
Within an hour, Kolesar was whisked away by helicopter to the Modesto Trauma Center. There, she was hospitalized for six fractured ribs, a liver laceration, a pneumothorax in the right lung, and a broken neck, wrist, hip socket and pelvis.
Surprisingly, there was no need for surgery to treat the litany of injuries. Her movement, however, was limited for the next four months. Dependence on a walker — and later, a cane — became a constant reminder of her accident.
She recalled feeling restless during this recovery period, eager for the opportunity to return to the outdoors. Her penchant for a natural setting is something she remembers developing early on — at the age of 8:
“My dad took me backpacking and made it a lot of fun. We went on overnight trips, where we had a camp by a stream. He brought all sorts of good food and chocolate. We saw deer, and I think we even saw a bear one time.”
As soon as she could handle it — a prerequisite she met in December 2012 — she began running, skiing, riding bikes and resuming her athletic activities per usual.
Kolesar has even found her rejuvenated self ascending once more to mountaintops, though only the climbing walls found in local gyms for the time being.
“I’m just going to be a lot more patient with it,” she said. “The mountains will be there. I’ll take my time in getting to them.”
She mentioned experiencing some residual pain after too much physical exertion of any type, which for her often indicates “when it’s time to slow down.”
Still, she felt comfortable enough to participate in the annual Davis Stampede 10K last month. Her next dedication is to running her first half-marathon, Sunday’s Shamrock’n Half Marathon in Sacramento.
The local race, which usually draws approximately 6,500 runners, consists of a 13.1-mile run through Sacramento’s Midtown — starting and finishing at Raley Field.
“I think I was delirious when I signed up for this,” joked Sarah Morgan, who has agreed to join and train with her roommate, Kolesar, for the upcoming event.
Besides running being a better way to avoid broken bones than a lot of outdoor activities, for Kolesar it is providing resolution to an experience that has offered important life lessons:
“One is that you need to set goals, and to realize the steps you need to take to get there. The other is being patient about those goals, and realize your own limitations — whether it’s running, climbing or anything else.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett