Comebacks don’t get any better than Stowell’s
Jeff Stowell can talk about skiing all day long.
But what separates the Sierra-at-Tahoe bumps coach’s stories from the rest are his unusual firsthand experiences. He can tell you about the time he traveled the pro moguls circuit and lived out of a van on three daily meals of pancakes for two weeks.
More recently, the 36-year-old Stowell entrances the listener about how a serious back injury nearly stole his life away three years ago.
“Four of my disks were compressed and one ruptured, leaving my leg numb,” Stowell recalled.
The man who lives and breathes moguls skiing won’t even try to protect his sport when he explains how the injury originated.
“It was the airs that did it, and the practice and training,” said Stowell, who believes he hurt his back during the 1997 Bumps and Jumps at Heavenly.
The pain left him doubled over and challenged him to perform life’s simple tasks. The nerve damage to his back also strained what was supposed to be a special time in Stowell’s life. He and his wife, Gina, were preparing for the arrival for their first child – Jered.
Two weeks after Jered was born in November, 1997, Stowell decided that the pain wouldn’t leave without medical assistance. It was the best decision – or third-best decision if you check with family members – that he’s ever made.
The excruciating pain disappeared and the world that he remembered returned as soon as he put his back in the hands of Dr. Mike Fry of the Tahoe Fracture & Orthopedic Medical Clinic. Surgery made him as good as, if not better, than he ever was.
“He’s a god. He’s my hero,” Stowell said. “He gave me my life back.
“I have less pain right now than I’ve ever had in my life, which is really cool.”
Today, you can see Stowell turning the bumps on Sierra’s West Bowl like the “Captain Wood” of a decade earlier. He’s resumed his freestyle coaching career at Sierra, which produced its first bumps team this winter under Stowell’s direction.
Best of all, Stowell has been able to teach his protege – the son who refuses to use poles – how to ski.
But his back is feeling so sound he’s also thinking about making a professional comeback – this weekend in the Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Bumps and Jumps Grand Prix Championship at Heavenly.
“My back has started feeling really good and I’ve started throwing some airs,” Stowell said. “I don’t know. That’s why I’m kind of going back and forth and back and fourth (because it’s where my back injury originated).”
Stowell’s closest friends are divided on the unlikely comeback.
“A lot of people poured their hearts out for me when I was limping around and I still had to work, and I don’t want those same people winding up telling me, ‘I told you so,'” Stowell said. “I’ll take a look at the start list Friday and see how I’m my feeling. It will be a last-minute deal. “
If the Bumps and Jumps were a month later, like in the past, Stowell doesn’t doubt he’d enter.
“I was hoping it would be in March. By the end of March I know I’d be OK to do it, but I don’t know with it being six weeks earlier,” Stowell said. “My goal was to come back and make one contest per year at home.”
If Stowell’s still undecided early Friday morning, he might find his soul-searching answer by looking into Jered’s eyes.
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