Jay Roane was floating 30 feet from the ground while skydiving when a gust of wind forced his parachute away from the landing site and his body onto the concrete.
His ankle shattered. The impact shot up his spine and fractured his pelvis. But Roane couldn't feel the pain.
“I knew right away that I couldn't move my legs,” the 52-year-old said. “I pictured the rest of my life, sitting in a wheelchair.”
Now, 18 months after his accident, he's picturing himself standing at the top of Nebraska's tallest building.
Roane is one of more than 2,000 people who will climb 870 steps to the top floor of the First National Tower in Omaha this weekend. The eighth annual Trek Up the Tower is Saturday. The race sold out one month after registration opened last fall.
The First National Tower is 40 stories — a little taller than two football fields stacked on top of one another.
More than a dozen firefighters from the Omaha and Papillion departments will kick off the event around 7:15 a.m., climbing the tower in full gear, along with Omaha police chief Todd Schmaderer.
About 10 minutes later, one person will start climbing every five seconds to avoid overcrowding. Once they reach the top, an elevator will take them back to the lobby.
The first place finisher usually races to the top in less than 5 minutes, though most people finish in about 12 minutes.
Roane, of Springfield, Neb., expects to reach the last step after 30 minutes of climbing.
Roane calls the feat a miracle he won't take for granted.
He spent seven weeks at a rehabilitation hospital in Lincoln after the accident. He learned to transfer himself from his wheelchair to the bed and back to his wheelchair. He stood on his knees for just seconds at a time to strengthen the muscles in his legs that still functioned — his quads and about 25 percent of his hamstrings.
Roane continued rehab as an outpatient at the hospital, and by last March he transitioned from a wheelchair to a walker and eventually a cane, which he still uses today.
Last summer, he walked a 5K. His next goal, he decided, was to finish Trek Up the Tower.
He practiced for the event at local hospitals, climbing up five floors, taking the elevator to the lobby and repeating the process again and again.
His cane will help him scale the stairs as will a brace on his left leg that looks a little like a soccer player's shinguard.
Roane has half the sensation on the bottom of his feet as most people, which makes balancing difficult. He doesn't have use of his calf muscles, so his legs tire more quickly. The range of motion in his left ankle, which was shattered in the accident, is still limited.
This time last year, Roane was more comfortable in a wheelchair than walking. Now, thanks to physical therapy, he's trekking up the tower.
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