A runner in a hospital far from the slopes of Girdwood will be on the minds of many when the Alyeska Classic Mountain Run tackles some of the 49th state's most famous ski terrain on Saturday morning, given that the race is being used as a fundraiser for Matt Kenney and his family.
Kenney is the Anchorage runner who survived a life-threatening fall down Seward's Mount Marathon on July 4. He has now settled into a Colorado rehabilitation center with everyone hoping for the best, though what fate holds for the father of two remains unclear. Craig Hospital in Englewood has established a treatment program "designed for him ... there until October 26,'' according to Kenney's Facebook page.
It is hoped that by then Kenney will be well enough to come home to Anchorage. If not, he will be transferred to another treatment facility for long-term care.
Craig is one of the top facilities in the country for the treatment of traumatic brain injury. Kenney spent weeks in a daze after the Mount Marathon fall, but since his move to Craig, he is reported to be alert and working on sitting up. He has even uttered a few words. "In cognitive therapy they'll work on his speech, and focus on his comprehension and short-term memory," friend and fellow mountain runner Brad Precosky of Anchorage reported. "His day-to-day memory is pretty much not there at this point. They'll establish a yes-no response system, either verbally or by gesture, and it will also be structured in routines so that he can get the most out of the process.
"I know that this may seem pretty difficult to sort all out, but I think the thing to remember is that it's going to take Matt a long time to sort it all out himself. That's basically the mountain in front of him. At least we know he's in good hands, actually the best there is for this type of injury. We also know that Matt's will is as strong as they come, and that he'll do everything he can to come back to us. At one point, we were living with a very grim situation. But now we have immense progress and tremendous hope for a full recovery in front of us."
Friends continue to raise funds to help support Matt's family. All are longtime Anchorage residents. Kenney graduated from Service High School before leaving to attend St. Mary's Academy and College in Kansas. He returned to work for K&L Distributors in Anchorage. His wife, Gretchen, is the executive director of the Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association. Contributions are being made to the Matt Kenney Fund at Wells Fargo Bank.
Organizers of the Seward Mount Marathon, the second oldest foot race in the country, have said changes aimed at making the event safer next year are under consideration, but those have yet to be announced. The 2012 race was marred by tragedy. Michael LeMaitre, 66-year-old also of Anchorage, disappeared somewhere on the mountain and is presumed dead. Kenney was knocked senseless and is still recovering. Penny Assman from Salt Lake City took a frightening fall that forced her evacuation by aircraft to an Anchorage hospital, but she recovered.
Injuries, a few serious, have always been common in the race up and down a 3,022-foot mountain at the end of Resurrection Bay, but the carnage this year has left many troubled. This week's tough race up Mount Alyeska does away with any potentially hazardous downhill running. It goes 2.2 miles up to a tram station perched 2,000 feet high on the mountain. Runners, the ski resort notes, "receive a courtesy aerial tram ride down upon reaching the summit."
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com