In January of 2010, Karina Hollekim would once again defy all expectations with the achievement of her latest goal: to complete a 10 minute ski run in Hemsedal, Norway. This feat required an iron-willed resolve that was no surprise to anyone who had heard the story of this blonde haired, blue eyed Norwegian BASE jumper and alpinist skier.
While performing at a 2006 competition in Switzerland, Karina’s parachute failed, sending her plummeting towards the earth at over 100km/hr (over 60 mph). She survived the crash but the brute force of the impact left her with a right femur broken in four places and 21 open fractures to her left leg. Doctors told her she would never walk again.
A documentary, 20 Seconds of Joy, by Jens Hoffmann, chronicled Karina’s journey leading up to the fateful event that would alter the life as one of the world’s leading BASE Jumpers and alpinist heli-skiers. At the Banff Mountain Film Festival, the documentary was awarded the People’s Choice Award along with Best Film on Mountain Sports Award.
As Karina’s story became known, supporters from around the world began to root for the recover of this determined spirit. She has shared each monumental goal over the course of her four year recovery: stationary biking with two legs during physical therapy (July 2007), walking without crutches (July 2009), and finally skiing in Hemsedal, Norway (January 2010). Her story is not about the extreme nature of her chosen sport but overcoming challenges that would seem impossible.
A telephone interview by S. Marie Fraide.
M: The Speaker Series is all about showcasing athletes that have overcome some struggles in their pasts. During one of your recent Red Bull Interviews, “The Resurrection”, you said it that it took about three and a half years to start from learning how to put on a sock to getting back on the mountain to ski. How did it feel to accomplish this goal?
K: It was unreal, it was almost too good to be true. At the beginning I wasn’t sure I would be able to come back to the mountains. The doctors told me I would never walk again. So for me – I never really believed that because I didn’t want to believe it. But then again, it seems unreal to hope that you’re going to make it back to the mountains. And I was- you know, doing surgeries and surgeries, one after another and that was going on for many years. I did 20 surgeries in three and a half years time and it was always a struggle. You know – you train and you get up and you get a little bit better and then every time you get better, you feel better and then it’s time to go back to the hospital for another surgery and get back down into the bed. And then to come back and to be able to stand on the top of a mountain and then actually ski down it was — you know . . . unreal. I felt that jittery-ish feeling that you have when you’re on the mountains and I felt like a little kid again. I felt like I was back to being “me” and to who I really am. That was the first time I felt like I was a normal girl again. And it was a great feeling.
I was really scared and really nervous about it because I was scared that it wasn’t going to work out. I was scared of realizing that I was going to fail because I was working so hard for that – working for three and a half years and then . . . if I was going to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to ski or to be in the mountains it was . . . going to be a great defeat. But I had to prepare for that, too – I didn’t know whether it was going to be possible or not. So when I realized that it was possible it made me obviously really happy.
M: That’s an incredible story and just truly inspiring. Even when you were not in the mountains – it just makes it that much sweeter to have an outdoor community supporting you.
K: Thank you. You have to wake up every morning and do what you have to . . . train. But for me it was important to have the great support from my family, my friends, and from the ski community. They sent me gifts, and letters and emails from all over the world. They kept telling me “Hey Karina, We know that you can do it! And we’re waiting for you here in the mountains so come back and play with us.”
For me those days when I woke up in the morning and didn’t know whether I had the strength or the motivation to go out there and train, I felt obligated and I felt like I had to because my friends believed in me so much. I didn’t want to let them down. I didn’t want to disappoint them. Really, I don’t think I could have done . . . I don’t think I could have come this far if it wasn’t for my friends and all the support that I’ve gotten from the community.
M: Do you think that the Speaker Series has helped you during your recovery process to sharing your story and getting it out there?
K: I had never made a speech before in my life before the accident. It was about a year after the accident when I was asked if I could come and make a speech in front of 1,500 people in Norway. And I just said, “Yes” without even thinking what I was answering. When I hung up the phone I realized, “Ooh, what did I just say yes to? I don’t even know how to do this.”
But I think for me that writing the speech, trying to figure out what I wanted to tell people and what I thought was important it became a therapy. And then, being able to be there up on stage and tell the story over and over again, I think it helped me get a little more distance from my story and to my situation. For sure it helped me.
The first time I said certain words in my speech it would almost make me cry. It was really moving for me and . . . it made me really . . . it was touching . . . it made me really sad in a way to even say those words out loud. But then, saying them over and over again, it almost became like it wasn’t even my body that I was talking about anymore.
On the other hand, now that I’m telling my story all over the world, it really makes it worth while because I can now – I can go out there and motivate people and inspire people to never give up; to follow their dream. If I can use the experiences that I have had to do that then it feels worth it for sure. It feels like I can actually do something else other than being selfish and being out there . . . chasing my dream.
M: You speak a lot about Norway, I’ve read that Hemsedal was the location that you chose for the first time to ski?
M: What was the significance to the place you chose? And, how long was your first run? Who did you celebrate with?
K: Basically, I chose Hemsedal as the place because I grew up there – well, I grew up in Oslo but that was my home ski resort since I started skiing. My dad has always had a chalet or a cabin in the mountains there. Now he’s moved up there so he lives there together with my step-mom. It’s been my home resource – they’ve been supporting me. When I was in my sit-ski for handicapped people they were supporting me and helping me in every possible way they could. That’s where I have all my friends and that’s where I have all of my family . . . so that’s why I wanted to go back there.
They [Ski resort] was really nice to me and opened up the ski resort an hour before they opened it up for everyone else so they let me have that hill to myself, because I was worried that other people were going to crash into me . It felt really comforting and felt really safe to be up there on my own again. I didn’t have to feel stressed about anything else. I just had to focus. My first run I took the chair lift to the top of the mountain and and I think the first run down took me about . . . I dunno, ten minutes. But I think back in the day it maybe took me three minutes to ski down the hill.
But anyway, it took me ten minutes that day because I had to take a lot of stops, there were tons of people coming to greet me and they wanted to hug and they were psyched about the fact that it worked out. A lot of people were there to support me. It was really nice and it was really moving. It was just one of those days that you’ve been dreading and looking forward to at the same time.
M: It’s so exciting.
M: So you’ve kept making these seemingly impossible goals and every year you totally made them and exceeded expectations. Looking towards the future do you have any big plans or goals for the upcoming winter season or in spring?
K: Yeah . . . well I do actually. I mean now I’ve been able to ski down the hill and it feels great, I love it. But I’ve been an outdoor girl – a mountain girl and I love to be out in the mountains and . . . out of bounds. And you know, I want to ski the powder. I want to be where there are no tracks and no ski lifts. So, I want to go back to the mountains to do some ski tours and hopefully see some powder.
I have a couple of different projects that I hope are going to work out. It’s kind of . . . it feels very uncertain now because I just have to play it by ear and go day by day because I don’t really know what my body is going to be able to support and how far I’m going to be able to reach. I don’t want to push it too far because I have to stay within my within my limits, within what I’m capable of doing. So . . . I have to push but at a very slow pace. I know I’m going to do something that makes me happy and definitely give me back that jitterish feeling of being a kid and being able to play and be out in the mountains again, for sure.
M: I think it’s just awesome that you always put these big goals ahead of yourself but you’re always really quick to say “Hey, I’m going to give it my best and I’m going to push it and see where it goes.” I think that a lot of people can relate to that.
K: Yea, well I mean, what can possibly go wrong? If you don’t make it then . . . you don’t make it! But then you can try again. A little bit later; maybe you have to do more, maybe in a year or two years from now. Then you’re going to make it, so for me I think I’m definitely very stubborn but I also believe that if I tell myself that I’m going to make it and I prepare my body that I’m going to be skiing, then little by little, eventually it’s going to believe it. And then I’m going to be out there skiing. The thing is if I continue to believe all the time then . . . at least if I keep a positive mindset it’s going to make me happy. I think it’s very important that when you go through big challenges in your life . . . I think the most important thing in order to be able to succeed is to keep a positive mindset. Instead of focusing on all the things that you can not do, you have to focus on all the little things that you can do, even though they might not be all the things that you wish you want to do. You can’t think about the things that you can’t do because it’s just going to make you sad. It’s going to make you depressed.
M: Right. . .
K: So I think that was one of the most important things for me. If I looked at my situation from a bigger picture at certain times there weren’t a lot of things that were positive . . . But every night when I went to bed and I looked back at my day . . . I was happy. I could think about all the little things I had managed to do that day. It turned out and made a positive day . . . which was really important to keep the spirit, to keep the mood.
M: I think a lot of people in different walks of life can relate to that aspect of building towards a goal . . . or an obstacle that could have prevented them from going after it.
K: Yes, It’s natural to be disappointed sometimes, you know? If you have a goal and you don’t reach it. You have to allow yourself to be disappointed but then turn it around. See it as a challenge instead of an obstacle.
K: So . . . [Laughs] at least it works for me.
M: [Laughs.] Motivation and inspiration can do wonders for keeping a positive attitude and I think that your story does wonders. I think that it doesn’t have to be applicable for everyone at that exact moment but having that story for another day can mean the difference in somebody’s life.
K: I always get inspired by listening to other people. Sometimes you learn little things and maybe you don’t learn that much or maybe you don’t agree with everything they say but you can always pick out little pieces that fit into your life. I feel like my story is universal because even though I got injured through an extreme sport, we all have situations in our lives where we feel like we’re getting thrown – or how do you say – hard punch or thrown back down in the basement. You need to find the motivation and the strength to get back up on your feet and continue your life. Whether it’s an illness or a loss of somebody close – it doesn’t matter – its all about the same. I don’t have the answers to those questions obviously, but at least I can tell my story and share how I coped with the situation and what helped me. Maybe that can help other people in the same kind of situation. If it does then it makes me really happy to be able to share my story.
Please join us for an evening with Karina Hollekim as she describes going “Beyond the Edge” and her journey “ back to the mountains where I belong”. Whole Earth Provision Company along with The North Face, Gore-Tex & Associates welcome Karina Hollekim to the Zach Scott Theater on October 25th at 7pm.
Visit The North Face Speaker Series site to reserve your tickets now. Tickets are free but seats fill up fast and events often sell out. Guaranteed entry tickets can be purchased for $8. VIP Tickets include guaranteed entry and an invitation to a reception party welcoming Karina Hollekim before the show. Tickets are priced at $20 and benefit Hill Country Conservancy.
5 pairs of tickets for guaranteed entry & 1 pair of VIP Tickets will be given away on our Facebook and Twitter.