PAMF Patient Returns to Soaring the Skies
Posted on Sep 22, 2011 | 0 comments
“I thought my flying days were over, I really did. Until I met the doctors at PAMF,” says Eves Tall Chief. A highly skilled hang glider pilot for more than 30 years, Tall Chief felt his world was crumbling when a dislocated shoulder threatened to ground him for good. “But my PAMF doctors understood me and put me back together.”
A former high school gymnast, Tall Chief’s love of speed and excitement had attracted him to extreme sports all his life-drag racing, speed boat racing, parachuting and even base jumping (parachuting from bridges, cliffs and antennas).
In the 1970s he discovered hang gliding and was immediately hooked. Soon after, the ranger responsible for overseeing hang gliding activities in Yosemite National Park retired and Tall Chief took his place.
From 1978-2010, Tall Chief racked up a record-setting 305 hang gliding flights, a park score that remains untouched today. He has been profiled in National Geographic and featured in numerous television projects and videos.
But through the years of his activities, Tall Chief took a number of spills. He says, “If I got injured, I never really noticed it.” Still, the damage accumulated and, over time, the tissue in his shoulder deteriorated and his rotator cuff receded up into his neck. In 2004, Tall Chief simply reached up to hang a poster on the wall and his shoulder fell apart.
Dr. Murray warned Tall Chief that the dislocated shoulder was very serious. The best he could do was restore 80 percent functionality. “He talked to me like a friend, a brother. We had built such a strong trust between us over the years, I had total faith in him,” says Tall Chief.
Most importantly, Dr. Murray realized that Tall Chief was determined to keep flying. “He could see it in my eyes,” says Tall Chief. “He understands me so well. He knows I’m not the kind of guy who could give up flying to go bowling or play dominoes.”
Tall Chief underwent three surgeries to repair as much of his shoulder as possible. Then, using videotapes of Tall Chief’s hang gliding acrobatics as a guide, Dr. Murray worked with Tall Chief’s physical therapist to create a customized therapy program that would get the pilot back in the air.
“They’re not just people to me,” says Tall Chief, “they’re family. And Dr. Murray, well, he’s a hero in my book.”
Tall Chief says when he is hurt he’s like a wounded bear-grumpy and hard to get along with. “But they put up with my orneriness for a year and a half until I could carry groceries for my wife again, pet my dog and rig up my hang glider.”
Today, Tall Chief is pain-free and back soaring with the breeze. One of his favorite places to fly is the windswept sea cliffs of Fort Funston, just south of San Francisco. To make sure he stays airborne, he still does four to five hours of his specially crafted physical therapy program on his own every day.
“The people at PAMF knew how much hang gliding meant to me,” says Tall Chief. “They stuck with me and gave me back my life.”