Vail woman’s passions include rocket science, Seven Summits
VAIL — Meghan Buchanan doesn’t just climb — she ascends. She wants you to, too.
The Vail resident worked her way back from a horrific snowboarding injury — she broke the head off her left femur in Sun Up Bowl — and is more than halfway to The Grand Slam of Adventure — the Seven Summits, and both the North and South poles.
Along the way she launched GGRIT — Growth Gratitude Resilience Integrity and Tenacity — aimed at helping people in general and women in particular overcome obstacles and reach their personal summits, “give people the tools to overcome challenges,” Buchanan said.
This month, she leaves for Mount Everest, the fifth of her Seven Summits. She hopes to return home to Vail in May.
Really, rocket science
Buchanan is an honest-to-brilliance rocket scientist with Raytheon. Her company shares her vision and sense of adventure.
Denali was an enormous adventure. She had good weather for the first part, then, at about 17,000 feet, a storm hammered her group.
“You power through it and keep going,” Buchanan said, which is pretty much the story of her life.
“I recall thinking how beautiful it is,” she said.
Then a more profound thought hit her.
“You get to see it if you put in the work,” she said.
Her guide on Denali told her, “You are ready. Go do Everest.”
So she is. She hopes to arrive in Kathmandu in March and be off the mountain in May.
Her toughest climb
The Vail Valley is home to countless elite climbers and a few who’ve completed the Seven Summits, but few have rebounded from the kind of injury Buchanan suffered.
She was laughing, smiling and loving the powder on Windows in Vail’s Sun Up Bowl on Feb. 6, 2011, a powder day. Everything changed in an instant. Buchanan blasted through the deep powder when she hit a fallen tree, buried under about 4 feet of new snow.
She broke the head off her left femur bone, twisting it so badly that the muscle and everything attached to it tore loose. It was so bad she was bleeding out.
There was so much snow that Super Bowl Sunday that they had trouble finding her. Eventually, ski patrollers followed the screams.
Dr. Rick Cunningham, the surgeon with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics who put her back together, said he hadn’t seen injuries that severe in 10 years. To the untrained eye, it looked like ice cream falling off the cone, or in Buchanan’s case, the bone, he said.
Not so long ago, someone with an injury like that might have been facing life in a wheelchair, Cunningham said.
Cunningham inserted a 14-inch rod into Buchanan’s femur, along with all the hardware to hold it in place. Along with everything else she was suffering, Buchanan’s body tried to reject it, leaving her in constant pain. The femur is one of the biggest bones in your body, and the rod needed to stay there at least a year for it to heal.
After a year and a half, bone marrow was growing back and that pain was gone.
“After 19 months of constant chronic debilitating pain, it was finally gone,” she said. “The life I once knew came rushing back.”
A month later, she could finally climb stairs unassisted. Four months after that, with her team’s approval, she left for Nepal with Love Hope Strength, a Colorado nonprofit — to hike to Everest base camp (17,500 feet) and Kalapathar (18,500 feet), a 14-day trek.
“All the amazing support and people in this valley gave me my leg back. I can’t wait to celebrate with my family and friends,” Buchanan said.
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Born in New Castle, Alice McKennis Duran learned to ski at 2 at Sunlight Mountain with her father and older sister, Kendra. She also had a brief stint training with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club prior to joining the national team.