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Excerpt

Excerpt

Taylor's Gift: A Courageous Story of Giving Life and Renewing Hope

Part 1
Endings

1
The  Accident

 

MARCH  14, 2010
VAIL, COLORADO

The sun wouldn’t set for another  three hours, but the shadows of the snow-covered pine and spruce trees that bordered the ski run had grown longer with the afternoon. From the top of Beaver Creek Mountain, the view was exquisite. Todd Storch knew he was experiencing the trip of a lifetime, and he wanted to capture every minute of it in pictures and videos.

It was shortly after 4:00 p.m. when the three skiers pushed off from the top of Latigo, an intermediate “blue level” run. Eleven- year-old Ryan took off first. An experienced skier, he’d been on numerous father and son skiing trips with Todd, but this was the first ski trip that also included his mother and sisters. Swelling with pride, Ryan couldn’t wait to show them all the things he’d learned and talked about from his past trips.

Thirteen-year-old Taylor was next. She’d graduated  from ski school only minutes earlier. The instructors couldn’t believe this was her first time skiing. They’d promoted her from her assigned class with her little sister, Peyton, to a much harder class with older teen boys. She handled it just fine. “She’s a natural. She’s been on blues and greens all day,” the ski instructor had said, referring to the color codes that signified the difficulty of each run. “She’s good to go.”

Seconds later, Todd was the last of the three Storches to push off from the mountaintop. With poles in one hand and his Flip camera in the other, Todd took videos of the kids as he skied behind them. He couldn’t have been prouder. Ryan was in the lead, showing off a bit for his older sister. Taylor skied behind her brother, her neon pink and black ski jacket and forest green helmet creating a colorful contrast to the glistening snow. A natural athlete, she looked good on skis. Todd marveled at the sight—his two kids skiing together for the first time. He reminded himself to breathe in the moment.

Back in the alpine village, his wife, Tara, and their nine-year- old daughter, Peyton, ordered hot chocolate and found a seat by the fireplace. Todd told Tara  he’d meet them there with Taylor and Ryan by 4:30. The family needed to return their equipment rentals by 5:00.

Earlier in the day, Todd and Ryan had mapped out an easy route to the bottom. They had planned several pit stops along the way, which gave the three skiers a chance to reconnect so they didn’t get separated on the mountain.  Those stops also gave Todd the opportunity to take pictures with his phone. At the final stop, Todd dropped his backpack onto the snow, took out his good camera, and said, “Okay, guys, we’re going to get a bunch of pictures here.”

He snapped a few pictures, then posed his children to get the perfect mountain  landscape in the background.  “C’mon, Dad,” Ryan said, “we’re supposed to be skiing, not taking pictures.”

Taylor was more tolerant of her dad’s wishes. She loved having her photo taken; she’d recently opened a Facebook account and wanted to share pictures of her in the snow for all of her friends back in Texas to see.

Todd wrapped up the photo session and gave his kids their final instructions. “This is the last run, so when you finish, wait by the ski lift and then we’ll go find Mom together.”

Once again, Ryan pushed off first, followed by Taylor. Todd was delayed a few seconds as he put on his backpack, grabbed his poles, and once again held the Flip camera in his hand. Todd had never been so happy. It had been the perfect first day, and they still had four more vacation days to go.

The run got a little busier when their slope combined with an- other. Ryan, already ahead of his sister, pulled over to wait for Taylor, but when she caught up with him, instead of stopping she seemed to rapidly pick up her pace. Ryan pulled out a few feet after her, while Todd was less than a hundred feet behind them.

As the runs merged, the slopes became steeper. Though the path was extremely wide, trees now flanked both sides of the run, and the number of skiers continued to increase as they neared the bottom. Taylor was now moving too fast for the conditions. At first, she tried to snowplow—a technique used to slow a skier down—but instead, she fell backward into a squatting position, which had the effect of reducing her wind drag, and she began to increase speed at an alarming rate. Ryan and Todd watched, hopelessly unable to help, as Taylor got into trouble.

Witnesses suggested that instead of falling over to stop herself, she tried to stand and put more weight on her right side, which caused her skis to turn. As the slope steepened, she continued to pick up more speed. Like a rocket, Taylor shot toward the woods that bordered the run. Heading into the tree line, she hit a pine tree head-on, but her perilous speed made her bounce off it, and she propelled into a second tree.

Stunned at what he’d witnessed, Ryan snowplowed to a sudden stop on the trail adjacent to where Taylor lay face up, her leg un- naturally bent backward at an angle.

Seconds later, Todd skidded to a stop, overshooting the area by about five feet. He quickly kicked off his skis and ran into the woods toward his daughter. But off the main trail, the snow wasn’t packed. With every step he sank into the powder, and he found it impossible to climb up the hill. After backtracking to the trail, he sidestepped up the hill until he was directly next to Taylor, then once again left the trail, tugging his boots through the deep powder until he reached his daughter.

“Is she dead?” Ryan cried out. The sickening alarm in his voice could only be heard by his dad. The other skiers on the hill didn’t seem to notice what was being said—or even realize what had happened.

Todd got down on his knees, straddled Taylor, and looked into her eyes. They were dilated and watery. He leaned closer, placing his left ear against her mouth, listening for breath sounds. Then he shouted.

“Listen to me, Ryan. I need you to listen to me. She’s breathing! She’s just knocked out.”

“Okay, okay.”

“Do exactly what I tell you. Kick off your skis and put them in the snow so they form an X, and then wave your arms at the skiers as they go by. You can yell, ‘Help!’”

“Okay, okay, okay,” Ryan said, as he looked at his sister’s limp body and the gravity of it all sank in.

“Do it now!” Todd yelled. “We have to get help. Taylor can’t ski down.”

Ryan immediately went to work and flagged down a skier, who used his cell phone to call the ski patrol. The time was 4:20 p.m. Within minutes, Taylor was taken off the mountain on a sled. Rid- ing in the sled next to her were EMS officials who made sure she didn’t code out on her first—and last—run down the mountain.

 

At 12:15 p.m. the next day, doctors at Grand Valley Junction hospital  pronounced  Taylor  Storch dead. Her grieving parents wept by her bedside, and the doctor asked a single question that would forever change countless lives.

“Would you be willing to donate Taylor’s organs?”

Taylor's Gift: A Courageous Story of Giving Life and Renewing Hope
by by Todd and Tara Storch, with Jennifer Schuchmann