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Ultramarathoner Campbell reflects on his recovery three years after accident

Elite-level ultra marathoner, Adam Campbell suffered a life altering injury while mountaineering in Rogers Pass, B.C. three years ago, but the accident hasn't hampered his love for the outdoors and he continues to explore the backcountry

Before his accident, Adam Campbell could quickly and effortlessly traverse more than a dozen mountain peaks in a single day.

Campbell was an accomplished elite-level ultramarathoner who's life changed on Aug. 31, 2016 while attempting the Horseshoe Traverse with two friends in Rogers Pass, B.C. The 35 mile crescent-shaped traverse involved linking 14 mountain peaks, crossing glaciers and scrambling and climbing.

It normally takes three to five days to complete. The trio was attempting to complete the high-alpine route in less than 24 hours.

When grabbing for a rock on Sulzer Tower, it let go and Campbell fell backwards more than 200 feet down a series of rocky cliffs, before coming to rest on a ledge. He remained conscious during the entire ordeal. 

Campbell suffered three broken vertebrae and now has two metal rods in his back. His pelvic bone had to be pinned back together, and his ankle was broken. He received multiple deep lacerations and stitches on every knuckle on both hands.

"I had no business being alive, but I was," recalled Campbell.

Campbell said while in hospital, in Kamloops, the first few weeks were filled with fear and uncertainty. He was surrounded by friends and family during his hospitalization, which he cites as paramount to his recovery.

One nagging thought on his mind was what his future as an athlete would be finished. Just two months after the accident he took to the trails again. But it was too soon, and he had to spend time in a wheelchair again.

"I learned to accept that entire recovery process and not set arbitrary goals for myself that I must be better by this date," he said. "I pushed myself a little bit, but I also realized there were some days I just had to lay down and that's part of the recovery process as well."

Before the accident Campbell, who lives in Canmore with his wife Laura Kosakoski, explained running was his emotional coping mechanism. Without his ability to move through the mountains during his recovery, he looked for different emotional outlets. 

He started to embrace more of his creative side and began to write and sketch images of the mountains he once climbed. Kosakoski remembered choosing to walk along the banks of the Bow River instead of running up Mount Lady MacDonald.

"Before the accident Adam was very singularly minded in terms of being a high performance athlete and it was very interesting to see him branch out after that," said Kosakoski. "It was like a forced slow down.

"I think he has a lot more perspective now and appreciation for things beyond competition and achievements, and how important it is to have relationships and family when you really need it."

Today, three years after his accident, Campbell can still be found on numerous adventures in the mountains from trail running and climbing in the summer, to ski mountaineering in the winter.

"It allowed me to dial the pressure back on myself a little bit. These days I still enjoy moving fast in the mountains, but it's much less about the competition than it is just being outside," said Campbell.

He admits he will never get back to where he was, but he hasn't taken his name out of the hat in regards to competing in races. Just 10 months after his accident, he competed in one of the most difficult ultra marathons, the Hundred Mile Hard Rock Marathon, in Colorado.

For Campbell, races serve as a training tool for his new personal adventures, where as before he would use the adventures as training for the races. Now he is motivated by personal adventures and looking for new routes to link together.

Despite his comeback, Campbell admits he is still not fully recovered, both physically and mentally. He still deals with aches and pains while out in the backcountry and in everyday life. He says he still gets flashbacks to the accident when he finds himself in similar terrain.

"Occasionally I get scared. I get the odd flashback to my accident and I have to kind sit down and either turn around at that point, or just have a little internal conversation about wether or not it's a rational fear."

Campbell's latest endeavour saw him spend two days running in the Purcell Ranges, using the Purcell Mountain Lodge as a base. He found himself nearly face-to-face with the very same mountain he fell off three years ago.

"It's really fitting to be here now, I mean it's almost three years to the day when I had the accident," said Campbell as he pointed out the Sulzer Tower from across the valley.

His drive to continue adventuring can be traced back to his passion for being outside. He is still drawn to challenges that push his limits.

"I think because the accident was so severe and I was just so fortunate to be alive, I kind of made a conscious choice not to focus on the things I lost and celebrate what I was able to do."

Evan Buhler

About the Author: Evan Buhler

Evan Buhler is an award-winning photojournalist and reporter who joined the Outlook in 2019. A native of Calgary, he previously worked in Salmon Arm, B.C.
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