Mark Scarff is a walking miracle. That’s what he says. It’s hard not to agree with him.
Last July, Scarff crashed on his mountain bike. He flew over his handlebars as he was descending Mount Helena near the Old Chevy Trail.
“My hands should have been landing gear,” he said, “but they were more like wings.”
When he landed, he was bloody and in pain.
“I just knew it was real bad,” he said. “I told myself to stay conscious.”
Not only did he stay conscious, he got back on his bike and rode about a mile and a half to Highway 12 near the old Edge bar and flagged down a car. Then the sheriff and an ambulance arrived on the scene.
“The call came out as an elderly male walking his bike down Euclid,” said Kelli Butenko, a paramedic who responded to the call. Butenko is also the events and outreach coordinator for Prickly Pear Land Trust. “When we got there, there was a shirtless guy sitting on the curb. He was completely covered with blood.”
Butenko asked him where he hurt and Scarff responded that he could feel some grating in his neck if he tipped his head back.
At the hospital, doctors discovered Scarff had broken his neck in two places. He had also broken his nose and a tooth and had lacerations on his face that required 14 stitches.
A day and a half later, Scarff underwent surgery — doctors screwed his C1 and C2 vertebrae together and put a plate and screws in his C5 and C6 vertebrae. A few months later, doctors added more screws, a bone graft and some wire.
Scarff turned 70 on Monday. He has nine screws in his neck and can turn his head about 50 percent of the range he had before the crash.
“I can do everything I want to do,” he said.
That includes riding his mountain bike. He returned to the scene of the crash for the first time Tuesday, and he tackled it.
“I’m back in the saddle again,” he said.
The other thing Scarff likes to do is run. He’s been running for 50 years. His favorite run is the Pike’s Peak Marathon in Colorado. It’s a race that takes runners from an elevation of 6,300 feet to the peak’s summit of 14,115 feet, and then back down again.
Scarff has placed six times in the race — including two first place finishes in his age group. He plans to run the race again in August.
He has been training. As soon as his doctor gave him the go-ahead, Scarff started hiking and riding a stationary bike.
“Every time I visited the doctor, I would say, ‘What can I do now?’” Scarff said.
He began hiking up Mount Helena — the first few times with a cane.
Now, he is running at least 20 miles a week. He also gets plenty of walking time in during his job as a downtown parking officer.
On Saturday, Scarff will run the 12K in PPLT’s Don’t Fence Me In Trail Run. Last year, PPLT awarded Scarff with the La Sportiva Stand Out Award.
“He’s a huge proponent of getting outside and exercising,” Butenko said. “He’s such an optimistic guy. We’re excited he came back from his injuries and is able to run this year.”
Scarff keeps a journal on an electronic tablet. In it, he reflected on his accident and his recovery.
“Life is a miracle, and to be given life again is again a miracle … And from this thankfulness also flows a desire to live more fully, for myself and for others. To notice and to live and to share all the goodness in this world.”
“The accident nudged me in the right direction,” Scarff said. “I have more to be thankful for. If because of my miracle I can be inspirational to others, I’m glad to do it.”