Editor’s note: A graphic photo, showing the extent of Victor Wiacek’s injury, is displayed on page 6. Editors felt that the photo illustrated the severity of the injury and needed to be shown to detail the heroic efforts of two Castleton University skiers.
It was Feb. 3 at West Mountain Ski Center when Victor Wiacek, a ski racer from Babson College, took a fall he deemed “the lamest fall ever” that turned into a life or death situation.
The fall resulted in his ski popping off his boot and brutally slicing his thigh.
“I barely had to look down and I saw blood all over the place squirting like a water gun,” Wiacek said.
When he landed on snow, he skidded toward Kurt Mackie, his old coach from his youth skiing days.
“Amazing he slid to me of all people because he is like part of the family,” said Mackie. Mackie immediately shouted, “TOURNIQUET!” and started applying pressure to the gash. His call for a tourniquet along with Wiacek screaming for help quickly got the attention of others.
Answering that call were Castleton skiers Kylie Mackie, (Kurt’s daughter) and Linn Ljungemo, who were tending gates to the men’s race.
“While all these adults were standing around, some were dumbfounded trying to do what they could with pale horrified faces, Linn jumped in and cradled my head and made sure I was conscious and with her. Kylie jumped right in and took her jacket off and tied it really tight around my leg.”
When Wiacek talked of Ljungemo cradling his head he said it was “most professional I can imagine.” Kylie Mackie and Ljungemo crafted a tourniquet from the belt of a coach who was standing by and also undid his ski suit and removed his back protector to increase blood flow.
“Kylie and Linn just jumped in. They were heroic, no other way to put it,” said Wiacek.
The two Castleton racers have been replaying the event since it happened.
“A moment I will never forget is when he looked up at me and Kylie and said, “If anything happens to me, tell my family I love them,” Ljungemo said. “I wanted to lose it then, but I said ‘don’t think like that, you’re OK,’” said Kylie Mackie, who has been friends with Wiacek for years.
After the initial first aid, a helicopter was supposed to transport the fallen skier to the hospital, but that never happened due to poor visibility and he instead was rushed to the hospital by Ambulance.
Kurt Mackie went with Wiacek and provided needed support to keep him from slipping into the darkness.
“It felt so comfortable. It felt so tempting, a relief from the pain,” Wiacek said.
When he was loaded in the ambulance, he said the pain kicked in.
“Every time my heart beats, I can feel it in my leg,” Wiacek said.
After the accident, Kylie Mackie said she had no intention of taking her second run, but Wiacek actually called her and told her “if you don’t race I’ll kill you.”
She took her second run and placed sixth.
Initially, the ambulance destination was Albany, but Wiacek said he pleaded to stop and get blood as soon as possible so they stopped at Saratoga Hospital for immediate medical assistance.
When in the hospital waiting for blood Wiacek said he was holding Kurt’s hand and said, “if I start to let go slap me.”
“He was getting nervous and I was getting nervous” said Kurt Mackie.
After a few minutes, the life-saving blood finally came.
“I can feel myself coming right back to my formal self, gaining this energy and felt so, so, so much better,” Wiacek said.
After he got the needed blood he was on his way to Albany to receive further treatment where his leg was stitched and stapled up. Wiacek said he doubted he would have made it without Kylie Mackie and Ljungemo’s help.
“What Linn and Kylie did saved my life. I’m sure of it,” Wiacek said.
Their ski coach, Chris Eder, still has a hard time believing what happened.
“I am very proud of Kylie and Linn. I was about 10-12 gates above the crash site and saw it happen from a distance. I was actually standing next to the Babson coach at the time, as we were both videoing from the same spot. I saw Kylie and Linn rush over to aid Victor. At the time, I was uncertain of the severity of the situation since I was so far away. It was not until after the first run was complete that I found out how bad it was. I skied down to the scene where co-head coach Dale Solotruck was. The first thing he said to me was “Kylie and Linn saved his life.”
West Mountain Ski Center co-owner Spencer Montgomery also praised the women.
“Thank God he was ok,” he said last week. “I called and spoke to his father the next day and he said he was doing ok. Thank God there were so many people there to help.”
Wiacek said he is now involved with the development of undergarments designed to help prevent injuries like this from happening to other people.
“It really hit me two days ago that I almost died. And in that experience, if a dozen things or 100 things went different, I would not be here to tell you this story.”
“I am so fortunate. So freaking fortunate to have all those people there,” Wiacek said. Everything was out of my control, but it all fell into place.”
Currently, Wiacek is back home in Queens, New York walking around on crutches.
When asked if he will continue skiing he said, “oh hell yeah!”