Back On His Feet: The Pekka Hyysalo Story

Comments by Shay Williams/

Words by Skye Darden :: Photos by: Petri Kovalainen, Reetta Kurvinen, Anja Hyysalo, Shay Williams

As with most extreme sports today, the levels and accomplishments are being pushed by young athletes every year. Unfortunately, there has come a price along with all this risk in becoming the next superstar. We have lost brothers and sisters along the way, as well as the countless that are now bound to wheelchairs. However, our various communities continue to move through the loss and often tragic stories to a better place.

I have always believed that with each loss comes a new soul that is saved. Not trying to get religious, but I really believe they are our protectors and can guide us through the good times and bad. As in snowboarding and skateboarding, freeskiing has been pushing the boundaries in what a modern athlete is capable of doing. 

As a judge at some of the highest level events, I have seen first hand how much these kids are going for it. It is at these same comps or even in their segments from their videos that kids get to witness what these incredibly gifted young men and women are doing. The desire to win and the feel of putting a new trick to your feet is as powerful as any drug. These young skiers are having to challenge themselves, both mentally and physically to achieve their goals and their dreams. Because, it is every young riders dream to compete at X Games.

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Pekka at the 2010 Jon Olsson Invitational.

This is the story about one such athlete that was on his way to competing for a spot at the X Games. Pekka Hyysalo was a few months shy from his 20th birthday, when a horrible crash, during a filming session in Yllaes, Lapland, Finland changed the direction of which his life was to become. I have known Pekka since he was competing in the Euro Open, when he was just 17. I had always admired that someone as tall and big as he is (he is 6'4") could pull the kind of tricks that guys half his size were doing. He is a very gifted athlete, but like many his age, had to also mature during a hectic pro skiing career.

Pekka has an amazing sense of humor, but sometimes this could have been mistaken for a brash sort of character. However, since the crash, I have been in contact with Pekka to get his story.

A story that is not only sad, but very inspiring:

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Skye Darden: THANKS PEKKA FOR TELLING YOUR STORY. WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED?
Pekka Hyysalo: My crash happened in Yllaes Lapland during our filming session, I was doing a switch dub 10 and overshot and over-rotated the jump crashing seriously. The date of my crash was 4/28/10 which I remember well, everything else is lost in my head. I guess the name of my injury is an extremely serious diffuse axon damage, TBI (traumatic brain injury). note: This is the same injury as CR and Kevin Pierce had.
 
I KNOW YOU ARE AWARE NOW ABOUT THE EVENTS AFTER YOUR CRASH. HOW DID THE EMERGENCY CREW HANDLE YOU AND YOUR INJURY?
After the crash I was driven to a hospital to Rovaniemi, since the weather was so bad and 

The Pekka Hyysalo Storywindy that the rescue helicopter was not able to fly. From there I was transferred right away to the Oulu University Hospital to the Intensive Care Unit.

AND IN THE INTENSIVE CARE UNIT, WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
I was put into the induced coma and was held in it for 17 days. When I woke up I couldn't speak or move.
 
AFTER THE ICU YOU WERE MOVED TO A FACILITY CLOSER TO YOUR HOME?
After four weeks I was flown from Oulu to my home town Turku on 25th of May, to the Intensive Care Unit at Turku University Hospital. I spent whole summer at hospitals in Turku until 8/11/2010.
 
THEN YOU WERE TRANSFERRED TO ONE OF THE BEST REHAB SPOTS IN FINLAND, TELL US ABOUT THAT.
In Synapsia, Helsinki. There I stayed until 10/5/2010 and have improved really well. I'll be skiing for sure again. It was said it might take more or less two years to relearn walking but here I am doing it already.
 
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE FUTURE?
Study myself a profession and go to work, I have to start studying really slowly from an evening highschool.
 
The Pekka Hyysalo Story
 
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO ALL THE YOUNG RIPPERS OUT THERE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AND WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED?
USE A HELMET!!! And if possible, a good one. And always watch out for bad weather conditions, strong wind coming from my back threw me over the landing. I kept skiing and it almost killed me.
 
I, PERSONALLY, WOULD LIKE TO THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME TO TELL THIS STORY, WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY ENCOURAGE OTHERS WITH YOUR BRAVERY. ANYONE YOU'D LIKE TO THANK?
I would like to thank all the doctors that helped me, my mother and younger brothers, father and his common-law wife, my close friend Reetta who was a enormous support and her parents, Schinka from Völkl, Miikka Niemi, you Skye for helping me out with this, Kloytonen, Aarni Toiviainen, Petri Kovalainen, my great aunt Anja and grand parents,and everyone that I forgot and you guys who help me. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

In closing, Pekka is an example of how we are pushing the level, but sometimes forget that there is real life behind the efforts. It is not easy to become a skiing superstar, but it is along that path that many are able to become better people.

Pekka had to learn that this life is more than just “becoming a pro” and has taken on a whole new challenge that most of us would never have to. Thank you Pekka for showing what a true heart can do for our sport and most importantly, our lives…

**New Interview: Released April 26, 2011**

For more info about Pekka, friend him on Facebook.

For more info about Petri's photography: petrikovalainen.com.

If you would like to donate to help Pekka's medical bills, click here.