A lot of miracles came together on Copper Mountain, Colorado on Easter Sunday, April 1 to save the life of Will Vogel, 15, of Medina.
The miracles are continuing, as he prepares to return to school on a limited basis at Wayzata High School, where he is a freshman.
His mother, Julianne Vogel, told the story of her son’s short career as a talented slope style snowboarder, the horrific accident that ended his ability to compete and what life is like for him, now that he is home.
“Slopestyle is a combination of large jumps and a series of rails in which he was working on complicated tricks involving spins and rotations both directions, inversions and balance,” she explained.
“He first discovered snowboarding at age five on a family ski trip to Utah,” Julianne said. “All that week he asked me if he could try snowboarding, so I put him in a private lesson. He ‘had it down’ in three hours and was absolutely hooked. Through the years he wanted to be on the snowboard hill everyday, even in the worst of conditions. He began training with the G Team at Hyland [Park] at age nine.”
Will’s career peaked on April 1 at national snowboard competition held by the United States of America Snowboard Association at Copper Mountain. He had qualified for nationals by being a top competitor in slopestyle in Minnesota. Then at Copper Mountain, he represented G Team, a Midwest team, and claimed sixth place in the nation in slopestyle competition in the Boys 14 -15 category.
“He had hoped to land his 1080 [three rotations in the air off a jump] in competition this year, which would have put him on the podium,” Julianne said. “His sixth place finish was remarkable, considering he was out all of December and January with a broken collar bone which left him a very short season to train.”
After competing on that fateful April 1, Will and some friends did recreational snow boarding on smaller jumps. Icy ruts awaited Will at the end of the last jump. He lost control, was thrown into a tree line and hit a tree at 30 miles per hour.
“The left side of his body took the impact,” Julianne said. “The fact that he survived the internal bleeding is nothing short of a miracle.”
A physician who had volunteered to serve at the competition was nearby and immediately came to Will’s aid. The physician called for a helicopter ambulance with his cell phone and attended to Will. The helicopter arrived as the ski patrol brought him down from the mountain.
“He was airlifted to a trauma one hospital in Denver with severe internal injuries – three broken ribs, a collapsed lung, grade five laceration to his spleen, renal artery completely torn from his left kidney, and minor fractures to the L1 – L5 vertebrae,” Julianne said. “Although he was airlifted, received blood on the helicopter, and had emergency surgery, he will no longer have a functioning kidney or spleen,” she said.
“His injuries were so severe that he has been advised by the trauma surgeons who saved his life never to return to the sport,” she said. “Will is going to have a new normal and have to say goodbye to his passion.”
His sixth place finish had earned him a spot to compete next year on the Rev Tour, a higher-level competition for riders to progress in the sport and move to more aggressive and prestigious competitions, Julianne said. He had hoped to attend college in Colorado or Utah to keep close to mountains and competition. Along with school, he aspired to compete in the X-Games and attain sponsorship from companies involved in the snowboard world.
“Although Will knew competitive years of snowboarding are somewhat short lived, the years enjoying the sport and his love of the mountains could have been his lifetime,” Julianne said.
As of April 25, Will was home in Medina, had lost a lot of weight and was working on managing his pain and getting his strength back. He was using a walker and was up and moving. His mother anticipated starting physical therapy in a week or so.
He can’t sit for very long, so when he returns to school, it will be on a limited basis. Wayzata High educators are helping him to get the credits he needs via online coursework and summer school, Julianne said. He will return to work at 3121 Pizza in Medina when he is able.
Doctors expect Will to live a normal life, but the future holds uncertainties, she said. His nonfunctioning spleen and kidney are still in his body. Surgeons were unable to remove them because of his severe internal bleeding. Hopefully, they can remain in place, but Will might have to endure the risks of having them removed.
“Will has been asked to coach for G Team next year, which he considering, but is processing (and grieving) the fact that his life’s direction is changed,” Julianne said. “Thankfully, he is very interested in engineering and criminal law.”
She added, “He has also done some modeling for companies like Target, Kmart and Honda. He is an avid fisherman and is part of the Wayzata High School Fishing Team. He also loves to golf and play Ultimate Frisbee but will not play this spring as he is recovering.”
Meanwhile, medical and rehab bills are adding up. Julianne is a single working parent whose health insurance plan carries a high deductible. Friends and total strangers jump started fund raising efforts at his GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/willvogel. In 21 days, 269 donors contributed $32,247 towards his initial $50,000 goal.
The Will Vogel Medical Fund at Bremer Bank in Plymouth enables people to contribute directly to him and his family.
Friends have helped the Vogels with meals and small fundraisers, including a G Team event at Buck Hill and a “Ride for Will” spinning class at Addiction Cycle in Medina.
“People can help by continuing to keep Will and his recovery in their prayers,” Julianne said. “If you see Will, please wish him well.”
Alaina Rooker contributed to this story.