Boarder gets new outlook on life after fall

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2004

JUNEAU There's an old Taoist saying about a thousand-mile journey beginning with one step. For 32-year-old Russian expatriate Pasha Chernyakov, that step was a hard fall.

While snowboarding at Eaglecrest on April 7, 2001, Chernyakov unsuccessfully flipped off a 60- to 80-foot cornice on the Eagle's Nest run, breaking his back and beginning a painfully rewarding journey.

''I used to think a lot about that day,'' said Chernyakov, who grew up in Moscow. ''It was kind of a special day in my life, where I started my new life.''

Since his accident, Chern-yakov has been taking his new life one day at a time to regain his freedom of mobility.

''It was like the day of revolution, if you look at it like history or something. It was exciting ... it was painful,'' he said.

At the time of the accident Chernyakov enjoyed testing the limits and was an experienced snowboarder with a multitude of tricks in his repertoire. While executing extreme aerial maneuvers, like front flips and back flips, he always knew there were risks involved.

He had hit the jump successfully before and didn't feel he was exceeding his ability, but this time he knew something wasn't right, he said.

''I didn't have too much time to think, just kind of like, 'I'll handle it,' in my mind,'' Chernyakov said. ''I took it too fast and next thing I know I hit ground with my shoulder.''

Chernyakov knew immediately that something was seriously wrong.

''I tried to move and I didn't feel my legs,'' he said. ''I realized right away that my back was broken.''

Rescuers got Chernyakov to Bartlett Regional Hospital for X-rays and a CAT scan. Due to the nature of the trauma, he was then medevaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he underwent about eight hours of surgery that same night.

''Tough time. Yeah, really tough time, but good times at the same time,'' he said. ''You get to see the generosity and kindness of people in this kind of situation.''

Chernyakov sustained a major spinal cord injury, with two vertebrae severely damaged and two slightly damaged, and he was a Harborview inpatient for about 40 days. It was at Harborview where his journey really began, one step at a time.

''The toughest time was at the beginning,'' he said. ''At the very beginning of the situation you have to stick to your bed, you cannot move at all. Afterward you can go out on wheelchair. Next step was making my first steps with a walker, and if I could make 10 steps it was exciting.''

Chernyakov had a lot of help from his friends, as well as strangers, with an overwhelming outpouring of local support to help offset the mounting medical costs. Juneau Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation was one of the local agencies that donated Chernyakov services to help him get back on his feet again.

''Pasha really drove himself a lot, he's really an amazing person,'' said physical therapist Sharon Buis. ''He has a lot of will.''

Buis says the type of injuries Chernyakov sustained are very difficult to overcome.

''Can you imagine just having walking being a challenge?'' she said. ''There's physical and emotional and psychological adaptations that you have to make. It takes a great deal of effort.''

''You just have to find the will to motivate yourself to keep moving because it's easy to give up.'' said Chernyakov.

''First year and second year I was thinking a lot about snowboarding, I just wanted to get back in shape to snowboard again,'' he said. ''Yeah, I want to go snowboarding, but I'm not impatient about it. I know it eventually will happen.''

Chernyakov is again working with REACH as a personal care attendant, a job he held before his accident, and hopes that his experience will be helpful to others.

''Because I went through this experience I can understand people with all kinds of disabilities,'' he said. ''Before the accident I wanted to be Superman or something. Afterward I just discovered that everyone can be like Superman everybody has a special ability. You can try to see people for abilities not disabilities. Every person can do something cool.''

Chernyakov said he hopes his experience will also be of value to fellow thrill seekers.

''Keep some circumstances somewhere in the back of your mind,'' he said. ''It's all for fun, but it could have very serious circumstances.''

Over the course of his three-year journey since his near-death experience, Chernyakov said he now has a new appreciation for life.

''I don't feel bad about what happened to me, it's just an experience,'' he said. ''What's supposed to happen, happened. It's just like a lesson, a lesson of life. Life still goes on, you discover new realities.''

Eric Morrison is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.

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