Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Judging a book by its cover - To the Edge and Back (Chris Klug)

The fascinating medical history of the most smiling man in snowbusiness

I've only reviewed one book on this site before and despite that book’s promising cover the actual ready bit was a bit disappointing. Thankfully Chris Klug’s ‘To the Edge and Back’ is the opposite; it’s a book with a bad cover that turns out to be a surprisingly good read...

Chris Klug is one of snowboarding’s more recognisable athletes despite competing in one of the sport’s peripheral events. He’s well known for being one of the most successful slalom athletes, for his longevity, having just appeared in the Vancouver Olympics aged 37 and for his charity work, but what really sets his story apart is his unique medical history - in the middle of his career he underwent a liver transplant and just two years later he won an Olympic medal.
Chris was permanently marked by the great swordsman Lorro

That alone would make for an interesting read, but what makes this book interesting and broadens its appeal is the insight into the history of snowboarding. The development of Klug’s career closely parallels the development of our sport and his early recollections of the events and characters of the early scene add an extra dimension and made this book for me.

And the book is well written. Here’s a nice extract from the book about his early snowboarding experiences…

 “I began begging my parents for a Burton snowboard for Christmas, only to meet unexpected resistance from my mother. She’d been skiing since she was a child and came from a long line of skiers. Because of my competitive nature, she though ski racing was one avenue that would fulfil my need for speed, thrills, and competition that no other sport could match. She figured that snowboarding just wasn’t going to do it for me. Besides, she said, it looked dangerous. And Santa Claus didn’t approve of dangerous toys....

Santa Claus lives. I know it because on Christmas morning, a brand-new, gleaming Burton Performer, the next step up the evolutionary ladder from a Backhill, was waiting under the tree for me.

I think Mom was a little miffed at Santa and glared at him most of the day whenever the subject of the board came up.”

Back when Chris Klug started, slalom racing was one of the core parts of snowboarding and most snowboarders would regularly compete at both the slalom and the freestyle events. Klug rubbed shoulders with a lot of the pioneers of the sport and he’s got a few interesting stories to tell. It’s great look at see how both the freestyle and racing parts of the sport developed and diverged. 
And where the fans diverged

Part of that development was when snowboarding first appeared in the Olympic Games in Negano, and Klug finished a creditable 6th...

The CBS crews converged on me, and I raised my arms above my head to acknowledge the crowd, who were cheering for all of us who’d come from our backcountry roots, who’d ignored the wisecracks, who’d found our own hills when they wouldn’t let us on the ski slopes. “I just want to thank the Japanese people for this experience,” I yelled into the microphone. “This is great! Thank-you, Japan, you’re awesome!”

My little speech for the cameras might have been longer on enthusiasm than eloquence, but i did better than my mom. When the CBS crew jammed a camera in her face and asked for her reaction, she froze, then tried to salvage the moment by saying, “I’m just happy he wore his helmet and brushed his teeth.”

His teeth brushing later got him a gig in Sports Illustrated's 'Sexiest Men in Sports'

He has some pretty strong views to share on Ross Rebagilati who won the first snowboarding gold and was immediately caught in a drug scandal...

“After all the years of work and then putting up with the bullshit of the FIS politics in order to legitimize our sport as something other than a playground for pot-heads and part-time athletes, in my eyes Ross had literally just pissed it all away in his urine test.”

“Ross protested that he hadn’t smoked pot in months. But, he said, he’d attended a pre-Olympics party where he might have inhaled “secondhand” smoke. Those of us who knew Ross rolled our eyes; he was practically Bob Marley on a snowboard”

“I considered Ross a friend; we’d been teammates since 1992, and I respected him as a competitor who’d won his medal by being the best rider that day. But inwardly, I – and a lot of other riders – seethed.”

It’s worth noting that as teammates they were both coached by Rob Roy

Even when Chris Klug appeared at Nagano he had started suffering from Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, a fatal liver disease where the only cure is a transplant. Things reached a critical point in the year 2000 where after 3 months on the critical transplant list he underwent a successful operation. The liver transplant was clearly the most important surgery Chris has undergone but it wasn’t the only medical problem he’s faced. It’s a notable feature of the book that Chris seems to stumble from one significant medical problem to the next here’s a look at the medical problems he’s suffered from.

Just two years after his life-saving surgery Chris Klug racing in the Salt Lake Olympics where in the highlight of his snowboard career he won a bronze medal. He received 10,000 emails after his Olympic medal including one from Lance Armstrong…

Sent: Saturday, February 16, 2002 9:00 AM
Subject: Klug
Can you pass along my sincerest “Congrats” to the snow boarder named Klug.
The one with the liver transplant. I read the article in the LA times this AM and was psyched.
Another medical miracle!
Things like this should be the story and not the f*****g ice charades...

Here’s a list of the famous transplantees mentioned in the book…
  • Walter Payton - American Football player and Klug’s childhood hero, died of Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis in 1999, a year before Klug’s operation.
  • Sean Elliott - NBA player who become first professional sportsman to compete again after a transplant (kidney) and took the time to talk with Chris Klug before his operation.
  • Lance Armstrong - Not technically a transplant recipient he’s more into the odd bit of orchiectomy apparently.
  • Larry Hagman - Liver transplant in 1995 brought on by drinking four bottle of champagne a day while he was playing J.R Ewing in Dallas. Now a big proponent of organ donation.
  • Mickey Mantle - baseball player and fellow alcoholic also had liver transplant in 1995 but he died just two months later anyway. His surgery caused a lot of controversy because he appeared to skip the waiting when he got a transplant in just one day while 14 people were dying a day in the US waiting for transplants.

And here are some more Liver transplantees for a nice complete list..
  • George Best - Manchester United footballer, ladies man and another alcoholic
  • Steve Jobs - Apple grower
  • Evel Knievel - stuntist
  • Linda Lovelace - sword swallower

The book ends after his Olympic bronze but Chris Klug keeps going and at the age of 37 he’s still going strong finishing 7th at the recent Vancouver Olympics. 

I won’t spoil things by continuing to steal whole passages and posting them on this blog so I’ll end here. I’d definitely recommend having a read because with such diverse subject matter and interesting stories there will definitely be something to keep you interested.

Buy the book…
Available from Chris Klug’s own site or Amazon  

Learn more about Chris Klug - He’s a busy guy...

He’s a motivational speaker, a professional racer, he runs training camps, he set-up a snowboard team and he runs a charitable foundation….. In his free time he skateboards, surfs, mountain bikes and has a go at a few other action sports but his best gig is being a judge of the Hooters Snow Angels Swimsuit Fashion Show in the Snow...
Fortunately the oversized cheque conveniently covered Chris’ embarrassing erection

His personal website 

The Chris Klug Foundation promoting organ and tissue donation  

Chris Klug’s own online snowboard shop 

America’s Snowboard Team which he set-up with Rob Roy to train for the Vancouver Olympics after being cut from the US team. 

And finally his movie - Ride of Your Life...
And you can buy the DVD on his site 

Related Articles...
Learn a little bit more about the infamous Ross Rebagliati 

Our first book review – Cham by Jonathan Trigell 

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