“I challenge myself every day”: athlete struggles with death after falling – image of his pain touches thousands
Saturday, 06.06.2020, 08:58
Louis Arevalo is a sports and nature photographer. In his job, he photographs some of the best skiers and climbers in the world. At the end of February he falls badly on a ski tour and suffers a cross-section. A conversation about nature, life, love and how not to give in to your fears even in the deepest crises.
FOCUS Online: Mr. Arevalo, on February 19, you fell heavily on a ski tour with your good friend Erme Catino, broke your back in two places and almost died. What exactly happened?
Louis Arevalo: We went on a ski tour in a burned forest to see if it was suitable as a scenery for a photo shoot. After taking my test pictures, I got into the ski binding and wanted to ski. Already with the first swing I noticed that a foot was not properly in the binding.
When I tried to snap the binding into place, I lost my balance and rushed down like a tomahawk until I was smashed upside down against a tree stump. I broke several cervical and vertebrae and three ribs; a lung collapsed, my head was cut open by the edge of the ski. If I had slid down the slope two meters to the right or left, nothing would have happened to me.
FOCUS Online: What did your salvage look like?
Louis Arevalo: I survived mainly because of Ermie. He has experience as a mountain rescuer himself and immediately asked for help. The fact that the helicopter could lower a stretcher at nightfall was mainly due to its exact location. He looked after me on the mountain for three hours until I was flown to Utah and underwent emergency surgery. The operation lasted eight hours. I am incredibly grateful to the doctors for saving my life, but I will probably no longer be able to run or ski; I am paraplegic from the chest down.
“Everything I have learned through outdoor sports and my connection to nature is now benefiting me”
FOCUS Online: How do you deal with this diagnosis? There is hardly a bigger cut for an outdoor enthusiast and half an extreme athlete like her.
Louis Arevalo: When I think of the things that I love and that I can no longer do, it is incredibly painful. Running in the mountains, deep snow under the skis, climbing – I will miss all of that. At the same time, the characteristics that sport and photography have always given me help me to cope better with this crisis. The perseverance and the will to achieve a goal, to improve his technique and to work with other people – all this continues to drive me in my everyday life, whether it is about overcoming the pain during physiotherapy or getting around in a wheelchair.
Everything I have learned from outdoor sports and my connection to nature is now benefiting me. I challenge myself every day, see what is possible with my limitations and try to teach myself new things. In the meantime I even ride my bike again – of course with a hand crank. Only the pain currently restricts me a bit on my trips with the wheelchair or the bike.
Jacki Arevalo: (laughs) That is the good thing about my husband. He always wants more, that has always been the case and thank God the accident did not take away this property. Sometimes I have to slow him down a bit, because he often displaces the pain that occurs after exertion. At the same time, this is probably the best way to deal with such a situation.
FOCUS Online: They posted a very moving picture on their Instagram channel. It shows them in a moment of sadness or pain while their wife Jacki is with them. How did this picture come about?
Louis Arevalo: I decided to document my rehab with photos. It was the same at that moment. Since my operation I have had a pain ointment regularly applied to my back and when I noticed that the pain was coming back, I put the camera on the self-timer. While Jacki was creaming my back, we were still fooling around because we thought we were just acting, but then suddenly the feelings – the gratitude and the pain – overwhelmed me and that’s how this picture came about. (fights with tears)
This actually happens to me a lot at the moment, because not only the love of my wife, but also the affection that I experience through friends or the community is incredible. Without the help of all these people, I probably wouldn’t have been through the many dark moments since my accident.
“A state of pure emotion”
FOCUS Online: How did the accident change your relationship?
Jackie Arevalo: In fact, we both showed ourselves vulnerable to one another in a way that did not exist before the accident. This has created a whole new form of openness and trust between us, even though we’ve been married for ten years. I have never felt so vulnerable as when I watched my husband fight for his life. It’s hard to find the right words for it, but in the past three months it’s been a state of pure emotion that has set in between us.
Louis Arevalo: Above all, I had to learn to accept the love and affection of my fellow human beings. For someone like me, it was unusual at first. Because before my accident it was me who always tried to give people the best of themselves. I never expected anything in return, but now everything is coming back and that gives me an incredible amount of strength.
FOCUS Online: On their website, they describe nature as a retreat for the dark moments in life. You speak of a place of healing. Where does this deep connection come from and how does it help you in this difficult time?
“My greatest fear comes from the pain”
Louis Arevalo: As with most people, there were difficult moments in my life. In my early twenties, my two parents died of cancer within 18 months – before that they had had a hard time struggling with the disease. It was incredibly hard for me, not only because I lost two loved ones, but also because I was suddenly on my own without knowing exactly what I wanted to achieve in my life.
During this time, I found the necessary peace in nature to keep my life on the right track. One of the most important lessons I learned during my many hours in the Rocky Mountains was how everything in nature harmonized naturally, how everything flowed into one another. I have tried to apply this knowledge to my own life by never enforcing things – be it professional or private. I think nature is a good example of this. If you really perceive nature, it helps us to deal more relaxed with the challenges in life. For the current phase in my life, this experience is incredibly valuable.
FOCUS Online: How do you see the future now? What fears, but also what hopes and goals do they have?
Louis Arevalo: My greatest fear arises from the pain and that it does not go away. It is getting better at the moment and I am not going to let it get me down. My goals are relatively clear: I want to continue taking pictures and capture stories of special people. And even if I won’t be climbing remote peaks in the near future, I’m sure to find other ways to live out my thirst for adventure in nature. And until that happens, I’m looking for other challenges.
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