Toby Benham Comes Out Of Comaby Alex Messenger - BMC Nov/2011
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By 20 he'd had his fill of climbing – "falling victim to a chronic disease known as doing something too much" – and needed to find something else to crank his motor. Yet, what happens when you're bored with climbing but, "never feel as much in my element as when I am soloing, when my life is on the line"?
Well, you move to New Zealand and become an expert in circus skills; you learn to high line; you train in gymnastics; you learn to freefall and basejump; you work as a stuntman; you change your name to Lucky Chance; you combine all your gravity-defying skills and you push and you jump. And then you push harder and jump wilder.
Until, one day, gravity comes calling.
On 17 August, in the French Alps, the rules of physics finally caught up with Lucky. A basejump went terribly, predictably, wrong. He survived – somehow – but in a coma with a shattered pelvis and jaw, open fractures in his femur and foot, collapsed lungs and a serious brain injury. His family – who admitted they'd been half-expecting this call for years – rushed to France.
Until then luck had been firmly on Chance's side. His closest moment was whilst filming a series of jumps from a 'death swing': an insane-looking rope swing off the edge of a cliff in the Blue Mountains. You swing, you let go, you somersault and you pull your shute. On the last jump of the day, his chute tangled never fully deployed. He fell nearly 600 feet: "I don't know how I managed to survive."
This August, reported dead by some UK climbers, rumours of his condition floated over the web. Speaking from a hospital in south-east France, his sister, Melanie Benham, said: ''He may wake up, he may not. If he hasn't shown consistent signs of progression within six months, he'll be deemed to be in a vegetative state.''
But Lucky pulled off his biggest trick to date: after two weeks in a coma, he came around. "Now the operations have been a success and he's already keeping the nurses on their toes with adventures through the hospital. But it's a long road ahead of rehabilitation, starting with his repatriation next week," explained Melanie.
Melanie is out in France with Lucky's mother and his partner, Nandalie Campbell. Nandalie, for one, is not surprised by how well he's fighting back: "For those that do know Lucky, progression has always been one of his strongest aspects. I'm so proud of my man for where he is today, compared to six weeks earlier in the unknown."
Already, Lucky has got an eye firmly fixed on a life after recovery: "Yeah, I'm getting better. Been out of action for quite a while now so I'm gonna give paragliding a shot next. It's a bit safer so that'll keep my family happy and will still be a fun, adventurous thing to do."
Lucky Chance? Well named.
Support Toby: Since basejumping doesn't make it into many travel insurance policies, Lucky Chance's family and friends have been running an appeal to help with his repatriation expenses, so far raising 30,000 dollars.