P.E.I. man returns to climbing 6 months after breaking bones in fall off mountain

Matt Cormier is back climbing again, indoors at least, after surviving a fall off a mountain in New Brunswick just six months ago.

'I feel a little bit more like myself every day'

'It was exciting, I was happy, I was also terrified, it was just a flood, I really can't describe it,' Matt Cormier says. (Submitted by Matt Cormier)

Matt Cormier is back climbing again, indoors at least, after surviving a fall off a mountain in New Brunswick just six months ago.

"It was weird, it was every emotion I can think of," Cormier said on returning to climbing on the indoor rock wall in Stratford, P.E.I., where he was the manager before his accident.

"It was exciting, I was happy, I was also terrified, it was just a flood, I really can't describe it."

Cormier recovering in the hospital last fall in Saint John, N.B. (Submitted by Matt Cormier)

Cormier fell about 30 metres at a rock-climbing event in Welsford, N.B., on Sept. 16, when his safety line was sliced through.

"There was some sharp rock in the area and it ran across, kind of like a knife's edge and it sliced the rope clean through," Cormier said. "I fell 80 feet. Far enough. Farther than I want to fall."

He had a broken left ankle, broken left tibia, fibula and femur, broken sternum, shattered right elbow and two shattered vertebrae. It took several surgeries to repair the damage.

Cormier climbed at Sorrow's End near Halifax, N.S., last summer. (Submitted by Matt Cormier)

After three weeks in hospital in New Brunswick, Cormier returned to his home in Stratford, P.E.I. Friends in the climbing and outdoor sports communities rallied to help, including installing a wheelchair ramp at his house.

A few weeks later, Cormier returned to the gym. 

"When I first started coming, I was still in the wheelchair, there's two flights of stairs to get down so I did what I call the butt scoot," Cormier said. "Lots of people offered to carry me but I would just scoot out of the chair and scoot down the stairs on my bum."

Cormier's physiotherapist says he sometimes has to "reel him in" when he tries to do too much. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

He wasn't able to do much, but was determined to be there.

"One leg was out of commission, one arm was not so good so just anything was good for the mind," Cormier said. "Physical activity has been a huge staple in my life and with that missing I really really felt lost."

Physiotherapist Robert Wickstrom has known Cormier for a decade and has been helping with his recovery.

"Sometimes it's hard to reel Matt back in because he would like to do a lot more than he's capable of, he would push, push, push," Wickstrom said.

"He's an easy patient that way in the sense that I don't have to harp at him to go and do his homework, he's going to do that on his own."

Cormier started back at the gym even while he was still in a wheelchair. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Cormier has also been impressing people at the gym where he trains.

"Matt was pretty much positive on his recovery from the get go, he wasn't let anyone hold him back, which was really cool to see," said Nick MacDonald, co-owner of Kinetic Fitness in Charlottetown. 

"We've all been inspired by what Matt's able to do, seeing him recover like this in six months is unbelievable."

There is still one major goal on the horizon.

"One of the few things in the hospital that I do remember is that I said this winter, I would get one ice climb in, that was my goal," Cormier said.

"The more I thought about it, as I had all my gear laid out on the floor, I kept going back to the accident and I got a little bit spooked and we delayed it a little bit but we've still got time to make it happen."

Rock climber Matt Cormier and his wife Nicole were excited after his surgeries last fall, starting his road to recovery. (Submitted by Matt Cormier)

Despite the accident, Cormier says there was no way he was not going back to climbing.

"Not for a second, it's just such a part of me, there's just no way I could leave that void," he said.

He still walks with a limp but he says even that is getting better.

 "I just know that every day is a step in the right direction, I hurt a little bit less," Cormier said. "I feel a little bit more like myself every day."

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About the Author

Nancy Russell

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca