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Today's word on journalism

May 8, 2009

The Last WORD

The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

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Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Skiing safer than you think, but the accidents get plenty of attention

By Kate Clark

April 23, 2009 | A chilling spring breeze brushes Jeff Smith's face as he speeds down the mountain on his metallic orange skis. The sun is out, casting a piercing glow off the pure white that drapes Heavenly Valley ski resort at Lake Tahoe. Hours later, Smith lies covered in blood on an uninviting Reno hospital bed; 20 staples line the back of his skull and a piece of his scalp is missing.

Every year as the first snowflakes begin to fall, people rummage through their closets to recover their dusty skis, boots and gear in preparation for the snow season. During the winter months we hear of enough skiing accidents and avalanches to convince any non-skier to never hit the slopes.

As of 2004, skiing and snowboarding cause an average of 42 serious injuries each year and 38 deaths, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). Far fewer than the 2,900 people who drown on average yearly or the 900 people who die bicycling.

Smith was seriously injured while skiing, but he considers himself lucky.

On March 12, Smith left for a three-day trip to Reno, Nev., with four friends to spend the weekend skiing and watching the Aggies play in the WAC tournament. They decided to ski during the day and watch the tournament in the evenings.

On their last run before heading back to Logan, Smith was skiing alongside one of his friends, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw his friend veer toward him. Out of instinct, Smith swerved to get out of the way but was sent spinning out of control in the direction of a nearby tree. Smith collided with the tree and he was knocked unconscious. His body buried into the tree well forcing ski patrolmen to cut his poles in order to get him out. If his head had been three inches to the left his brain stem would have been crushed by the tree.

"It happens quickly. You can say that it's never going to happen to you, but there's no time to change anything," said Smith. "Before I knew it, it was done. I was in disbelief."

Smith was taken to the hospital where several tests were performed to determine if there had been any brain damage or internal bleeding. Five hours after he was life-flighted to the hospital, Smith walked out on his own, departing with only exterior head injuries and a very sore body.

"I was blessed. For whatever reason it just wasn't my time."

Smith, who participates in many extreme sports such as wakeboarding and motorcycling, enjoys the risk of fast speeds and the possibility of injury.

"I'm an adrenaline junky," said Smith, who is about to turn 48. "I've never been that worried about getting hurt because it always happens to the other guy."

On March 17, actress Natasha Richardson fell during a skiing lesson on a beginner's run near Quebec, Canada, just days after Smith's accident. The actress, who wasn't wearing a helmet, complained of a headache and was quickly flown to Lenox Hill hospital in New York. Her brain was so badly damaged she had to be taken off life support.

It is a common misconception that most accidents happen in snowy weather and on difficult runs at high speeds. The opposite, in fact, is true. More people tend to crash when it is sunny and on easier runs because the risk factors appear lower.

However, the number of people wearing helmets on the slopes is rising. Nearly 40 percent to 60 percent of head injuries are avoided by wearing a helmet, the NSAA website confirms.

"In my generation we wore a ball-cap and sunglasses," said Smith. "My three youngest kids that snowboard wear helmets, but now my wife and I are going to wear them too. I would have probably walked away with just a sore body if I had one on the day of my accident."

"In some ways skiing is becoming a lot safer than other sports," said Troy Oldham, who has been a ski patrolman at Beaver Mountain since 2002. "New equipment is providing better bindings, higher boots, and skis are being constructed to carve and turn easier."

Every sport contains a fair amount of risk. In football, you could land awkwardly while diving for the ball. The risks are similar for soccer, basketball or any other sport that involves speed and intensity. For skiing, weather and visibility are huge factors. It comes down to using the right equipment and realizing that you could get hurt.

"I wouldn't say this has happened to me for a reason but you get to look at life from a whole new perspective," said Smith of his accident. The things that mattered a lot, or that I thought mattered a lot, have shifted in priority."

Smith doesn't regret his misfortune. His new laid-back demeanor helps him to enjoy the simple things in life and to spend more time with his family.

"Everybody should have the chance to realize that not even all of today is guaranteed. You have this moment."


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