Johnson back on slopes after near-fatal crash

Saturday, December 1, 2001

TIMBERLINE LODGE, Ore. -- Bill Johnson remarkably returned to the slopes Friday, skiing down Mount Hood just eight months after a frightening crash left the 1984 Olympic downhill champion in a coma with a brain injury.

"It felt great. I turned a lot," Johnson said after a warmup run.

He was especially pleased that he stayed upright on his skis.

"I didn't take a digger, and I'm not about to," he said.

He has made quite a recovery since that day in March when -- at age 41, 11 years removed from competition -- Johnson fell face-first after his legs separated and he tumbled into two restraining nets during a race ahead of the U.S. Alpine Championships.

Johnson was unconscious when ski patrol medics and a race doctor arrived to treat him at Big Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Mont. He was in a coma for three weeks.

Johnson sustained severe head trauma, and needed a breathing tube on the mountain and a tracheotomy at the hospital. He bit his tongue during the crash, and it partially blocked his airway and bled into his left lung.

After recuperating in California, at the Centre for Neuro Skills, Johnson went to Oregon so his family could care for him. He has been at his mother's house in Gresham, not far from Mount Hood.

Joining Johnson on the mountain Friday was John Creel, his coach before the crash, now helping him with physical conditioning.

"That's amazing," Creel said after watching Johnson take a couple of quick tight turns on a warmup slope outside Timberline Lodge and snowplow to the bottom.

As heavy snow fell, Johnson was thrilled to be back on skis.

"The snow looks great," he said. "It's nice out here. It's so sweet."

Creel said his workout sessions with Johnson were "getting too mundane" for the Olympic champion.

"So we had to get him out here and give him a reason to keep doing stuff that's not fun," Creel said.

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