A Warm Welcome to Alaska

March 29, 2018 by Beth Sitzler

The April NATA News features an article on athletic training in Alaska and the unique challenges and fulfilling rewards the athletic trainers with Orthopedic Physicians Alaska encounter. While transitioning to a new state and job can be difficult, James Berry, MS, ATC, LAT, experienced a whole new set of obstacles when he broke his neck three days after moving from Georgia to Alaska in July 2016.

After six and a half days and driving 5,800 miles, Berry and his father stopped at an Anchorage bar for lunch. On the TV was a program about the Seward’s Mount Marathon Race, a 3.1-mile race up and back down Mount Marathon that takes place each Fourth of July. Interested in the challenge, Berry decided to participate in the race.

“When I was running down [Mount Marathon], I tripped and tumbled face first and broke my C6 vertebrae, compression fractured my nose, my forehead was folded down over my eye – liked I’d been scalped almost – and I broke two ribs,” he said. “I hiked the rest of the way down [covered in blood] and walked into the little medical clinic there with my dad.”

Medical personnel insisted Berry be airlifted by helicopter to a hospital Anchorage – “I wanted them to put a neck brace on me and have my dad drive me, but they were convinced I needed to be helicoptered,” he said. Berry was able to convince the paramedics let him sit up so he could enjoy the midnight sunset over Anchorage, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“And then I started work four days later,” he said, adding that after the ordeal, he mostly just felt sore.

“Twenty days after I was cleared, I dumbly ran the New York Marathon. After 20 miles my neck was in a bunch of pain and I cried at the finish line after the race.”

He realized then that he needed to give himself time to heal. He decided to take a break and use his athletic training skills to rehabilitate himself.

“I did some rehab with light weights and joined a cycling gym instead of running,” he said. “Then a couple of months later, I was perfectly fine. I can do anything – I can snowboard all day and go run.”

Despite his harrowing experience, Berry’s enthusiasm for his new home and passion for physical activity haven’t been dampened. Berry likes to take full advantage of the outdoor opportunities provided by his new home state, explaining that he and a fellow coworker go snowboarding three days a week before work.

“That’s one of the benefits of living in Alaska,” he said.