Profiles In (Dis)Courage: Danelle Ballengee

Broken, but not beaten, four backcountry travelers tap unexpected reserves to overcome horrific injuries.
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Danelle Ballengee, 41

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.”