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Profiles In (Dis)Courage: Danelle Ballengee

Broken, but not beaten, four backcountry travelers tap unexpected reserves to overcome horrific injuries.

Danelle Ballengee, 41

Accident
Slipped while trail running
Injuries Shattered pelvis, three broken vertebrae, and major internal bleeding

In December 2006, Danelle Ballengee was five miles into an eight-mile run on the redrock plateaus between Moab, Utah, and the Colorado River when she slipped and tumbled 60 feet down a rocky slope. Multiple impacts shattered her pelvis in at least four places, the fractures ultimately causing one-third of her blood supply to hemorrhage into her abdomen.

The three-time Primal Quest champion and four-time Pikes Peak Marathon winner milked two energy gels and a puddle of water to stay alive for two days and nights. “Even as I was laying there dying,” she says, “I was thinking about my future and my family. The cold was so miserable and most people wouldn’t have made it. I feel lucky that I did.” She credits her survival, in part, to her endurance-athlete’s strength and determination: To keep warm in subfreezing temperatures, she did hundreds of painful sit-ups.

She also huddled against her dog—a mutt named Taz (pictured) that eventually left her side and miraculously led rescuers back to her location. “Had it been any warmer, I would have bled to death. And if it had been any colder, I would have died of hypothermia,” says Ballengee, whose pelvis holds two four-inch screws and a titanium plate. She thinks about her ordeal almost every day, but rather than upsetting her, “it reminds me how lucky I am to be here.”

Nearly six years after the accident, Ballengee is still undergoing physical therapy, but she hits the trail almost daily. And she points out an unexpected upside: “I move at a slower pace now and explore the canyons I always used to hurry past.”

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