Chiacchia Speaks About Horrifying Fall, Amazing Recovery

6:58 AM, Jul 10, 2008   |    comments
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Four summers ago, Darren Chiacchia was sitting atop his favorite horse, and on top of the world.

He became the pride of Western New York, helping the U.S. Equestrian team win a bronze medal at the Olympic games in Athens.

Four months ago during a competition in Florida, Darren was gearing up for this year's Olympics.

He was riding a young horse, and things were going well.

The first few jumps went well, and then in an instant, it all came crashing down.

A mis-step by the horse prevented it from clearing the next obstacle, a heavy cannon, causing a horrifying accident.

The horse fell head over heels and landed on top of Darren.

Scott Brown: "Do you remember any of this?"
Chiacchia: "I don't remember. I have a memory of leaving my motor home in the morning and getting my helmet on, that's the last thing I remember."

Once he saw the videotape of the accident, Darren knew immediately what had happened, he took us through it step by step:

"There should be two strides to that jump, and what happens is he (the horse) adds a third stride. He just misread it, being a young, inexperienced horse, and he thought the right thing to do was add one more stride.

"He went to leave the ground and he thought 'oh, I better put another stride in here,' and when he tries to add the third stride, he meets the jump at his chest and does what we call a complete rotational fall."

Brown: "The first time you saw the tape what was your reaction?"

Chiacchia: "You know it was a bit shocking because it really was severe and I didn't expect that. I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect that. I did kind of catch my breath."

Brown: "Are you amazed that you survived something that serious?"

Chiacchia: "Quite frankly, yes. When you have a 12 to 14 hundred pound animal moving at speed, following you to the ground, nothing good comes of that ever."

The accident left Darren with a brain injury, broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Suddenly, the Olympics were unimportant, it was Darren's life that was at stake.

"I actually did die at the scene. I did the whole out of body thing, and I floated out of my body and my father came to visit me and the whole thing," he said.

Chiacchia's entire family, fearing the worst, flew to Florida to be with him.

Darren was in a coma for more than a week, and as he emerged from it, he was confused and scared.

"I was absorbing some of the things around me, I had heard this word 'vegetable' used around me, and 'brain damaged'. People that have my degree of injury struggle with basic things like talking, eating and just functioning, so I just didn't know, I just didn't know."

But in the weeks after, Darren's neurologist says he's never seen anyone get better so quickly.

The doctor attributes it to Darren's world-class physical condition and his lifelong practice of yoga, which stimulates all parts of the brain.

Within two months, he was riding again.

Then last month, Darren, along with his horses, returned to his 300 acre farm in Springville.

Brown: "So, how are you feeling?"

Chiacchia: "I'm feeling great. Overall, riding feels really good, but I'm still taking it one step at a time."

And one ride at a time, literally getting back in the saddle again.

Darren now believes all of this might have been a blessing. A blessing in disguise.

It was during his recovery, that Darren realized the first of the many blessings the accident had bestowed upon him.

"I've conquered this problem largely in part due to the support of my family. My brother and my two sisters and my mom were there through it all, and I needed to be cared for in every way, shape, and form for 42 days and they did it. They went all out for me, they went all out for me, and I'm here largely because of that," he says.

With newfound patience -- count it as a second blessing -- Darren won't try to rush back for this year's Olympics.

"The Olympics next time are in London in 2012, we've got the world championships in Kentucky in 2010. I have every intention of making a serious bid for both of those," Darren says.

And now as he regains his strength, and reclaims his life, Darren does so with a newfound knowledge of what's important to him, and what just doesn't matter.

Call it a third blessing: that of clear-eyed thinking.

"I like to be busy, but right now I'm trying to focus on the things that really have an impact," he says.

Things like giving back to his sport through teaching and his work on various boards, his family, and his riding.

"I've been given a second chance and therefore I feel like I have a responsibility to do a good job with that second chance," he says.

"I beat the odds, and for that, I'm blessed."

Blessed by being able to overcome the biggest hurdle in his life.

To see Scott Brown's story click on the link above.

To learn more about the Equestrian Aid Foundation check out their website at:   Equestrian Aid Foundation.

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