Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top adventure racer rescued after three days lost with broken pelvis

Photo from the Gallup Independent.

Danelle Ballengee, a Summit County adventure racer who is one of the top women in her sport, is set to undergo surgery today after she fell 60 feet while trail running in Moab, Utah, and broke her pelvis in four places. She tried to crawl for help, covering only a quarter mile in five hours. After that, she waited, immobilized for three days in a desert canyon, drinking from puddles until she was rescued.

What is it about Moab? It's the West's own adventure sport Bermuda Triangle where experienced outdoor athletes get trapped by stupid mistakes, and never seem to tell friends where they are going. Case in point, Aron Ralston, the guy who cut off his hand.

Rescuers found Ballengee when they spotted her dog, Taz, and followed him to the injured runner.

Ballengee may not exactly be a household name, but in the world of adventure racing, she's so famous she doesn't need her last name. She's a Madonna, a Hillary, an Oprah, a name everybody knows.

She races for Colorado-based Team Spyder, which is regularly a top contender at races around the world. She used to race for Team Nike, another Colorado-based power house that regularly takes first place at big races.

She holds the women's record for climbing all of Colorado's 14ers, doing it in 14 days 14 hours and 49 minutes. She has won the Pikes Peak Marathon.

She also manages to keep up with three super-human male teammates on courses that can cover hundreds of miles and last for days. During these times, the racers sleep only a few hours. They may cover almost 100 miles in a day. By the end, their vacant, sunken eyes and stumbling gaits make them look like zombies.

Top adventure racers are not only severely talented athletes. They have the mental will and discipline to push themselves through pain that would flatten most people.

She told Denver's 9 News "I definitely thought about how easy it would be . . . to just stop moving and to just lay down and just go to sleep and just die."

But I have a feeling she has had that feeling about five dozen times during grueling races. One can only assume her career as an adventure racer helped her manage the ordeal.

The hero here is Taz, who, according to reports, encountered a search party five miles from Ballengee. He barked at the rescuers, but wouldn't go near them. Ultimately, the rescuers say they followed Taz all the way to Ballengee, 52 hours after she had fallen.

Want to see the TV report? No video of her, but she is talking on the phone. Click here: http://www.9news.com/includes/buildasx.aspx?fn=http://wm.kusa.gannett.edgestreams.net/news/1166452371760-12-17-06-MoabHiker-10p.wmv&sp=http://wm.kusa.gannett.edgestreams.net/ads/sales/pre-stream/intelligentoffice11-06b.wmv

Ballengee is obviously out of competition for at least a year, which begs a question in the world of adventure racing, where talented female athletes are at a premium: who will replace her? Will this injury start a domino effect, a stealing of female racers by other teams? We'll see.

No one is talking about that yet.

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