Marla, Mary and Leo have had a very active end-of-summer and beginning of fall. On August 8th through
the 13th, Marla participated in the Colorado Brain Injury Association’s (BIAC) Challenge-by-Choice camp
at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) in Breckenridge Colorado. The program was expressly
developed for traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivors.
This program offers TBI survivors the opportunity to expand their potential and reach beyond their limitations
in a challenging, yet safe and supportive program of outdoor adventure. Each camper is paired with a buddy
during the week, and Marla was paired with Vikki Kusumoto, a volunteer from New York. Vikki’s brother
Joe is a BOEC staff member. Vikki, with her infectious smile and gregarious manner, became fast friends
with Marla. Campers and their buddies were each members of one of three different groups. Marla’s
group named themselves the “Sun-baked Sardines,” in honor of the jam-packed sun-room in which they
held their meetings at the BOEC Griffith Lodge.
The program started off Monday with a rafting adventure down the Colorado River. The weather was perfect,
with hot sun and cold water combining for a wonderful and wild trip. Marla was able to maneuver the raft
oars with her right arm, which was a big step in function for her new artificial elbow! The group enjoyed
lunch on the river, and relaxed on the more gentle last half of the float trip. That evening, the entire camp
gathered in the BOEC’s Griffith Lodge for a night of guitars, singing, and music.
On Tuesday, the group tackled the climbing wall. Marla’s right arm was bound in a padded sling, to
provide protection for her tender new artificial elbow joint. Marla was hesitant at first, and was somewhat
scared, leading to a few tears of frustration as she backed down to the ground again. But with encouragement
from Vikki and the rest of the campers, Marla’s “I can’t!” turned quickly into “I can!!” as she found her footing and
powered up the wall. Vikki was in awe of Marla’s strength and resolve. Slowly, methodically, and carefully, Marla
climbed the rock wall, and rung the bell at the top in victory! Marla was very excited that she was able to overcome
her fears and conquer the climbing course. Vikki and Marla’s instructors were very impressed at her adaptability
and perseverance. Upon seeing the pictures of her adventure, Mary and Leo were in awe of her accomplishment.
Rock climbing using only one arm is an amazing challenge, and Marla was able to meet it head on! Tuesday night
closed on a touching note, as the group of TBI survivors shared their stories of challenge and encouragement around
a roaring campfire under the stars.
On Wednesday, the group moved on to the ropes course. The ropes course is comprised of a set of challenging
obstacle elements constructed from ropes strung from platforms secured by wire high above the ground in the
lodgepole pine trees. For safety, each camper wears a climbing harness and is linked into the guide wire
at all times. The wire provides no support or assistance in crossing the element: it only offers a safety
should the climber fall. Fresh with new confidence from her success on the climbing wall, Marla tackled the ropes
course with new resolve. Each element successively becomes more challenging as one progresses through
the course. Marla had to think and adapt new ways to cross each element, deriving innovative methods to get handholds
and find her footing, while using only her good left arm, since her right was again bound in the padded sling for
protection. Marla successfully completed the entire ropes course, and did not fall a single time. At the end, she
was clipped into the zip line, a steel wire with a pulley that one rides from high on the platform down to the ground.
Quite a thrill! A bit scary for some, but Marla wasn’t frightened in the least. See the updated Photo Gallery for pictures
from the ropes course and other adventures!
Thursday was more relaxed, offering campers the opportunity to have fun in a goofy “carnival” put on by the BOEC
staff, as well as canoe on the BOEC lake, take a nature walk, and write in their journals. Thursday evening, each of
the campers and their buddies exchanged hand-crafted photo and picture collages commemorating their time
together during this memorable week. Friday brought tearful good-byes, as the campers and their buddies
parted ways, but looking forward to new adventures and new friends next year!
The week’s experience was a new milestone in Marla’s recovery. It was a great opportunity for her to challenge
herself independently, and marked the most time that she has spent away from Mom and Dad since her
accident. She blossomed with this chance to spread her wings, and the new friends that she made helped
her to expand her comfort level with communicating and talking amongst people without the help from family
that is typically available around Mom and Dad. All in all, the Challenge-by-Choice camp was an amazingly uplifting
adventure upon which Marla thrived!
Heartfelt thanks are due to Marla’s Aunt Judy and Uncle Joe, as well as the students, staff, and parents at Glacier Peak
elementary school, all who generously financially supported Marla’s BIAC camp experience in Breckenridge.
Marla, Mary and Leo spent Labor Day weekend in Glenwood Springs, where Marla got the chance to go
hiking, and to see Sheryl Crow at a cold and snowy evening concert in Snowmass. The family also enjoyed
visiting her Aunt and Uncle Judy and Joe at their cabin at the base of the Ragged Mountains above Paonia Reservoir.
During the month of September, Marla has continued with therapies at Craig, while she, Mary, and Leo continue
to work hard packing her belongings in preparation to move to Glenwood Springs sometime during the month
of October. Leo continues to work with Marla on physical therapy several times each day, and the eye in which
he recently received a new corneal transplant is healing according to schedule. Mary celebrated her 60th birthday
on September 17th, and the family marked the special occasion by going out to dinner.
Marla has awoken with serious pain in her right arm on several recent mornings, and x-rays at Dr. Sachar’s
(her orthopedic surgeon) office revealed that a small break has developed in her lower arm where it
connects into the artificial elbow joint. Her physicians have adjusted her medication regime in response,
since the medicine that the inhibits excessive bone growth around the joint typical of head trauma victims,
can also inhibit healing of the fracture. A trip to the dentist also revealed that one of her molars was cracked,
likely in her accident, and will require repair. In addition, one of the experimental research medications that
she is taking is causing her to be very tired during the day, and yet have difficulty getting to sleep at night.
Mary is working with the study’s research physicians to help reduce these side effects.
On a recent shopping trip, Marla was very excited to have the chance to drive again, as Leo allowed her
to take the wheel of the family mini-van in an expansive and largely empty parking lot, for practice. Marla
had a big smile on her face as she recounted getting back behind the wheel. She also tried out a
recumbent bicycle at Craig Hospital, especially designed to offer stability and support, as well as a great
way to exercise the legs. She is saving her money already in hopes to buy one in time for next spring
On Wednesday September 22nd, Marla and her friend Missy went down to the Tattered Cover bookstore
for a book-signing and talk by Aron Ralston, the climber who amputated his right arm, pinned by a boulder
in a remote Utah slot canyon, rappeled out of the canyon, and hiked over five miles to save himself.
It was inspirational for Marla to hear Aron’s story first-hand and see how he has been able to
recover and continue to be active with his prosthetic arm.
Mary and Leo are very much looking forward to their return to Glenwood Springs, where it will be helpful
not to have to drive 40 minutes each way to the doctor and therapist each day. Marla is approaching the
move with calm resolve, although she will miss being close to her many friends that she knows from teaching
at Glacier Peak and Malley Elementary Schools. Marla hopes to become involved in some capacity at the
schools in Glenwood Springs, to continue to progress in her recovery, and expand her ongoing work with
children, at which she excels.
Thanks again for continuing to visit Marla’s website. She is very excited by her recent adventures, and hopes
that you are too! Please feel free to drop in on her Messages section, and leave a note to let her know what
is happening in your lives!