By Sue George with assistance from James Herrera
During a semi final heat with eventual Jeep KOM race winner Jill Kintner on September 1 in Beaver Creek, Colorado, Tara Llanes entered the second to last straight on the course and went over the bars on obstacle that sent her over the bars, coming down hard on her head then back. She was rushed to Vail Valley Medical Center, then Denver Health Hospital, where a specialty spinal cord team worked on her for seven hours over Saturday night. Llanes' crash caused a fracture to the C7 and L1 vertebra and damage to the spinal cord, resulting in a below the waist paralysis, a condition her surgeons say is most likely permanent, but there is always a possibility that things will change for the better.
According to her My Space page, Llanes made it through "another surgery and is now breathing on her own and able to communicate with friends and family." She initially reported no feeling below her waist.
Giant's Travis Chipres spoke with Cyclingnews Thursday after returning from Denver Health Medical Center, where he'd spent several days with Tara and her family. "Her spirits are up," he said. "Her family is thankful for all the support and attention."
Llanes has been an athlete and champion of many sorts. She began with basketball in the third grade, going on to win a high school national championship. While in junior high, she discovered BMX. "My mom and I used to always pass this track, Orange BMX, on the side of the freeway. I think my nagging finally got to her and one night we stopped and watched the racing," said Llanes. "By the next week, my mom bought me a pink CW with matching pink and grey AXO gear and we went back to the track. I ended up getting second place. Who would have known that night would have changed my future?"
For the next few years, Tara and her biggest fan and supporter, Mom, flew around the country competing at national level events. Along the way, she acquired Haro as a sponsor. "After a few years on the team I started to here about mountain biking. I was 16 years old and talked to my team manager about getting me a mountain bike to try out. He finally agreed and I went to a race in Big Bear and won in the junior class... Since then I've been able to travel the world and meet a lot of new friends." Llanes is currently sponsored by Giant Bicycles.
James Herrera, Llanes' coach for the past two years and friend, said, "I can't even begin to express just how incredible this girl is. As an athlete, she is a coach's dream: a fierce competitor, dedicated, motivated, and upbeat in every way. Having to pull back the reins on how long or hard she'd train was my biggest chore. I can quite honestly say, I've met very few people in my life that are even remotely this driven."
"But her athleticism and competitive spirit are only a small part of what makes Tara the person she is. She is compassionate, grateful, and helpful to every person she comes across, always placing the wellbeing of others before her own. On more than one occasion, her actions, the way she lives her life, became my example to follow."
In lieu of further gifts, such as flowers, the family is asking well-wishers to consider sending a contribution to a "Road to Recovery" fund being set up to support Llanes during her rehabilitation. More information will be posted at www.tarallanesroadtorecovery.com or contributions can be made to Tara Llanes, Road to Recovery Fund, 4068 Green Ave Los Alamitos, CA 90720, USA.