AD Main Menu

Kenney returns to Mount Marathon 2 years after life-threatening fall

Mike Nesper
Matt Kenney pauses during a training outing on the Peak 2 trail Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. Kenney is preparing for his return to the Mount Marathon race in Seward after suffering serious injuries in a fall from a cliff there in the 2012 race.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney descends the Peak 2 trail while untangling the leash for dog Rubye during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. Kenney is preparing for his return to the Mount Marathon race in Seward after suffering serious injuries in a fall from a cliff there in the 2012 race.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney descends the Peak 2 trail with dogs Jackson, left, and Rubye during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. The backside of Flattop is in the background.
Erik Hill
His license plate describes his passion for peaks as Matt Kenney unlocks his truck following a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. Kenney had hiked the Peak 2 trail with dogs Rubye, left, and Jackson.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney ascends the Peak 2 trail with dogs Jackson and Rubye, on leash, during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney sports a tattoo he recently acquired he says means "Accomplish everything without fear" as he ascends the Peak 2 trail during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. Kenney is preparing for his return to the Mount Marathon race in Seward after suffering serious injuries in a fall from a cliff there in the 2012 race.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney updates wife Gretchen on his progress as he ascends the Peak 2 trail during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney pauses for a moment while ascending the Peak 2 trail with dogs Jackson, right, and Rubye during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney pauses during a training outing on the Peak 2 trail Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. Kenney is preparing for his return to the Mount Marathon race in Seward after suffering serious injuries in a fall from a cliff there in the 2012 race.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney descends the Peak 2 trail while untangling the leash for dog Rubye during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. Kenney is preparing for his return to the Mount Marathon race in Seward after suffering serious injuries in a fall from a cliff there in the 2012 race.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney descends the Peak 2 trail with dogs Jackson, left, and Rubye during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. The backside of Flattop is in the background.
Erik Hill
His license plate describes his passion for peaks as Matt Kenney unlocks his truck following a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. Kenney had hiked the Peak 2 trail with dogs Rubye, left, and Jackson.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney ascends the Peak 2 trail with dogs Jackson and Rubye, on leash, during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney sports a tattoo he recently acquired he says means "Accomplish everything without fear" as he ascends the Peak 2 trail during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains. Kenney is preparing for his return to the Mount Marathon race in Seward after suffering serious injuries in a fall from a cliff there in the 2012 race.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney updates wife Gretchen on his progress as he ascends the Peak 2 trail during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains.
Erik Hill
Matt Kenney pauses for a moment while ascending the Peak 2 trail with dogs Jackson, right, and Rubye during a training outing on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in the Chugach Mountains.
Erik Hill

When Matt Kenney sustained a traumatic brain injury during the 2012 Mount Marathon race, his prognosis was bleak.

It was unlikely he would survive, doctors told Kenney's wife, Gretchen.

He did.

Regaining the ability to walk and talk wasn't supposed to happen, either.

It did.

Not only is Kenney walking and talking, the Anchorage man is competing in Friday's Fourth of July race just two years after his horrific fall.

Kenney, 43, won't bomb up and down the steep 3,022-foot mountain in Seward in less than an hour like he has in the past. His goal is to finish within the race's 21/2-hour time limit. The time limit and other safety measures were added after the 2012 race, when Kenney and another racer suffered severe injuries and rookie Michael LeMaitre disappeared.

On Tuesday, Kenney climbed Mount Marathon for the first time since his accident.

"I had to get the jitters out," he said.

He and mountain-running friend Brad Precosky visited the spot where Kenney broke his skull and leg -- near the bottom of the mountain in an area referred to as the Waterfall or the Cliffs.

Kenney has no memory of the accident, so Precosky told his friend to look to the left of the waterfall. There Kenney saw the ravine that he hit as he plummeted about 30 feet.

The pair didn't stay long.

"He shrugged it off and ran all the way back into town," Precosky said.

Kenney completed his trial run in 2 hours, 41 minutes, Precosky said, a journey that included a handful of quick water breaks and about five minutes rest at the top. Kenney ascended in 1:24, seven minutes faster than his time in the Bird Ridge uphill race two weeks ago.

"He's slow and methodical and he has good strength," Precosky said. "That's what it takes."

Kenney said he didn't received any resistance from the Seward Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the race, when he signed up. Precosky is running Mount Marathon with Kenney, who wore a helmet during Tuesday's trip and plans to do the same on race day.

Although Kenney asked Precosky to run with him, he's capable of racing alone, said Barney Griffith, another friend who went to Seward last week with Precosky and Kenney.

"He was leading the way," Griffith said. "We were just there for company.

"He gets out by himself all the time," Griffith said -- something that wasn't possible during Kenney's first year of recovery.

He's driving alone, too, something Kenney missed greatly. Before being cleared to drive, Kenney would spit on his truck in frustration as he walked past it.

"When I got my license back, the first place I went was to the car wash," he said.

The next item on Kenney's recovery list is to get back to work. He won't be returning to K&L Distributors but he hopes to start a new career as a teaching assistant.

The idea for a career shift came after Kenney started volunteering three days a week in the kindergarten class at Huffman Elementary, the school his daughter attends.

"It was the best part of my week," Kenney said.

Kenney, who was hospitalized for eight months, has made astonishing progress. Griffith said his speech and cognitive comprehension have improved so much that those who didn't know him before wouldn't be able to tell Kenney was ever in an accident.

Still, he has lapses.

"I'll always have problems," Kenney said. "I need to cope with the limits that I've been dealt."

Since the accident, Griffith and Precosky have noticed something different about their friend -- an infectious, upbeat attitude.

"It makes you realize things in your own life," Griffith said. "Most things aren't that serious when you compare it to what he's gone through."

Kenney started his countdown to Mount Marathon 100 days prior to the race. With the Fourth of July on the horizon, he now wears a "permagrin" on a his face, wife Gretchen said.

"It's his form of art," she said. "The mountain is his canvas."

After Mount Marathon, Kenney plans to participate in the seven-mile Alpine Adventure Run in Sitka and the Alyeska Classic Mountain Run up the two-mile North Face Trail. While realistic in his abilities, Kenney plans to continue working to become the competitive mountain racer he was prior to his accident.

"That's part of me that will never go away," he said.

And it's why he is returning to Mount Marathon to finish what he started in 2012, Gretchen said.

"I knew in my heart and Matthew's heart he had what it took to get back," she said.

Reach Mike Nesper at mnesper@adn.com or 257-4335.

 


By MIKE NESPER
mnesper@adn.com