Against all Odds: Firefighter, Climber, Biker, Amputee
In 1991 I was in a ski accident and suffered a commuted fracture of my tibia and fibula. They said I would never ski again. The next 21 years I spent the majority of my free time hiking, Telemark skiing kayaking and rock/ice climbing. In February 2010, while hiking in the Superstition Mountains, I heard a snap in my ankle. It was painful, but I was able to still walk on it. I went to the doctor and he said I needed an ankle replacement. He stated I had about four broken bones off my talus. I asked “Can we take out the broken bones?” and he said we could give it a shot.
After about a month off I went back to work. working as a firefighter, the pain became unbearable. In November 2011, I had an ankle replacement. The pain never went away. My life of outdoor adventure was over. I could only spin on the exercise bike to keep my ankle limber enough to work.
For the next three years I buried myself in work as a county training officer. I kept busy, but longed for the adventures of my past. In January of 2014 I was injured on a structure fire –I collapsed a lung and broke my ribs. I went back to work in February of 2014. Now my ankle was in excruciating pain. In March of 2014 I worked a 72 hour shift and drove to see Dr. Clanton in Vail for what was supposed to be a week of tests. After only four hours and a bone scan he called me into his office. I had inquired about amputation and at this time he stated he thought it was my best option.
On April 22, 2014, I had a right below the knee amputation (Ertle procedure) at PSL in Denver. I was released from the hospital four days later on my 50th birthday. My employer offered me early retirement but I was determined to get back to work. I made the 1000 mile round trip to Denver 36 times since I was shrinking out of sockets in two weeks. I was determined to make it back to work and I trained religiously.
In seven months I was back out rock climbing. I spent the next winter ice climbing while working through the system to return to work. On March 17th I finally got the call. I was offered a shot to return to work as a line firefighter on probation.
It would not be long before I was put to the test. An ultralight had crashed on a remote part of the mountain where no trails existed. I helped carry the PT for five hours in 95 degree heat, and soon I was off probation. I had lost my Lieutenancy and training officer designation because no one thought a 50 year old amputee could make it back. I have since worked my way back up to shift leader and lead firefighter.
Insurance would not pay for a fire leg but thanks to Steve Chamberlands 50 Legs I am staying in the game. Becoming the first amputee career Firefighter/EMT-I in Colorado was a huge accomplishment. My life had changed and I wanted to give back more by helping other amputees and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I posted on a few amputee sites that if you come to my house I will put you up and teach you to rock climb, ice climb, bike, ski or kayak. I have since worked with several amputees and I believe I even changed a few lives.
Nothing is more inspirational then meeting a young man bitter about their amputation and two years later watching this same man climb Devils Tower. I also work as an administrator on the 911 help site helping first responders.
Losing my leg was not a bad thing – it showed me I had more to give.
I started a climbing program at Battle Rock Charter School. I have spoken at schools and at the Paradox Sports Got Stump party when I received the Got Stump award. In 2015 I became the first amputee to climb the infamous Ames Ice Hose in Telluride, Colorado. Last winter I led multiple ice climbs in Silverton, Colorado.
In 2016 I also competed in World Team Sports Adventure Team Challenge. Climbing and firefighting are only a few of my passions. I run the rivers in the spring and spend a great deal of time on my road and mountain bikes. I am always trying to beat my times on Strava and I have actually placed in the top ten in some segments against able bodied riders. I have been writing Strava every few months asking them to include a disabled class for riders. Until then I just put amputee next to my name.
I feel truly blessed that my amputation went so well and that I have been able to help others. So if you want to get out send me an Email and lets make it happen. you can also find me under facebook Jeff Bryan and Instagram Amputee_fire_climber. The sky is the limit. Never underestimate yourself!