Featured photo: Teton Rescue Ranger Nick Armitage airlifting his “package” Steve Markusen. The rest of the rescue team (lower left corner) remain on the Exum Ridge, Grand Teton, August 8, 2014. Credit Brian Carver

“What is your name? Where are you?”

My eyes opened to see a chiseled face with furrowed brow. Pain stabbed my side. My head, arms and legs were covered in blood. Every time I breathed my chest made a soft whistling sound. It was August 8, 2014. I was sixty years old.

The air was thin, cold, and damp. The beautiful blue sky of morning had been replaced by lead grey clouds. Three climbers huddled over me on a 6-by-4-foot ledge on the edge of the Exum Ridge, 400 feet below the 13,775 foot summit of the Grand Teton. Climbing solo, I had fallen 100 feet on an easy section of a route I climbed a half dozen times. By some miracle, a sloping ledge arrested my fall just feet from a 1000-foot drop.

After five hours on the ledge my life was slipping away. I said to my companions, “I’m not going to make it.” My companions and over thirty park personnel involved in the rescue proved me wrong. Around 4:30 p.m., I opened my eyes to the welcome sight of blue sky and a bright yellow helicopter. Attached was a 100 foot short haul line, a stretcher and park rescue ranger. Within 15 minutes of being airlifted to safety, the Exum Ridge was again shrouded in clouds. Taken to the emergency room of St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, I was found to have three broken ribs, a punctured lung, a lacerated spleen, and lacerations that required 42 stitches and staples. If interested you can read the whole story published in Rock & Ice Magazine here:https://crooked-thumb.com/2017/11/01/genesis-on-the-grand-a-near-ending-is-a-new-beginning/

Photo: Steve in St, John’s Hospital, Jackson, Wyoming August 9, 2014. Credit Max Markusen

Two months after my climbing accident I am out riding my road bike on a gorgeous late September day. Catching the front wheel of my road bike in a crack I fall over sideways hitting the pavement and breaking my femur.

Three days later, I am discharged from Hennepin General Hospital. Returning to my apartment alone, I sit on my couch thinking, “I have two choices— wallow in self-pity or move forward.” I give myself twenty four hours to feel sorry for myself. The next day grabbing my crutches, I hobble out the door and around the block.

The Key to Recovery—Mental Toughness

Recovering from traumatic injury or major surgery requires, above all, mental toughness. The older you are, the tougher it gets. Don’t listen to the doctors and surgeons who say, “You won’t be able to do that anymore.” Or they say, “You are going to have arthritis in that joint. You won’t have the same range of motion.” That is the future. The future is unknown and uncontrollable. What you control is your attitude and what you do today.

The key to recovery is first accepting the reality of your situation. If it’s a serious injury of surgery your body will never be the same. You can’t improve perfection. Have a positive attitude—it will get better, but only if you put in the time and effort.     Next, get help from a physical therapist and a personal trainer who can guide you along the right path. Don’t be cheap. It’s not worth it. This about quality of life—for the rest of your life. Visualize who you want to be then have the mental discipline to go after it—day after day.

Photo: Twelve months after my climbing accident—left to right Charlie, Steve and Max Markusen on the summit of the Grand Teton, August 2015.

The Recovery Process

When I accept a new client, the first thing I do is an assessment. I look for restricted range of motion, unnatural static and dynamic body position; and unbalanced posterior to anterior and lateral muscle movement. Next, I create progressive programming that improves range of motion, creates strong balanced muscle groups and improves cardiovascular fitness.

I have had the privilege of working with dozens of clients recovering from injury and major surgery. Along the way I have learned a few things. I take time to know my client. Everyone is different. Every situation is different. The way to recovery is rarely straight. Be flexible. There is a time to push and a time to hold back. I hold up a mirror and show my clients their progress. The goal is to recover AND avoid future injuries.

My client John found me several years ago. Six months prior, he stepped off his roof onto a ladder, the ladder slid sideways to the ground; John fell twelve feet and landed on top of the ladder. He was rushed to the hospital. X-rays indicated nine fractured ribs. John was in his late 50s when he came to see me. He was out of shape, overweight, and had a high stress job. His resting heart rate was 110 bpm and it did not take much to get it over 180.  

I did an assessment and came up with a plan. We worked on his strength, balance, mobility and improved his cardiovascular fitness. He has lost over twenty pounds. He can squat, deadlift and bench press over 120 pounds. He can hold 320 watts on a row machine for 30 second intervals (producing 320 watts for 30 seconds in any sport is tough). He can do a hard cross-fit type workout for an hour with minimal rest. His resting heat rate is 65 bpm and we rarely get his HR over 165. He started running again (he is a former marathon runner) and is up to 3 miles. All of this at age sixty. He is retired and enjoying his life.

Once I have done an assessment and started working with a client, we spend a significant amount of time on single leg and arm exercises: such as single leg squats, single arm chest presses on a stability ball and walking lunges. We add in mobility exercises like box jumps, ice skaters and jumping jacks. Core exercises are very important to overall chassis integrity. Once we have built a base we add aerobic interval training on a row machine, stationary bike or step mill. My workouts are never quite the same. I am always challenging my clients in different ways


I went over thirty years without a serious injury. In 2009, I had my left knee replaced then broke my ankle ice climbing in 2011. Since my 2014 climbing and biking accident, I have traveled the long way back. Over the last eight years, I have climbed the Grand Teton three times. I still race bicycles and fly my paraglider. In the winter, you can find me putting down ski tracks in the Teton backcountry; ice climbing, or skate skiing the Nordic trails in Minnesota. I’ll be sixty nine in March 2023. I work hard year-round keeping myself and my clients strong and healthy. There is never a day, or will be a day, that I say the job is done.

Photo: Steve on lead. Cascade Falls, Minnesota 2018. Credit Laura Bergman

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