Steamboat Springs’ Jace Worden works with teammates in a drill during practice Thursday afternoon at Howelsen Ice Arena.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs’ Jace Worden works with teammates in a drill during practice Thursday afternoon at Howelsen Ice Arena.

Injury doesn’t hold Steamboat's Worden back

Sailor overcomes odds with key hockey season

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Steamboat Springs’ Jace Worden works with teammates in a drill during practice Thursday afternoon at Howelsen Ice Arena.

— Get Jace Worden to tell the story, and he can rattle it off like second nature.

He’s told it so many times that it rolls out like a memorized Mother Goose nursery rhyme.

“Probably a thousand times,” Worden said when asked how many times he’s told the story about a 2,000-pound stone falling on his left foot in a canyon in Arizona last spring break. “It’s all right. It’s just a memory I don’t particularly like to live back.”

The group he was with got him out of the desert to a helicopter that airlifted him out. Doctors thought he’d lose his foot. He had surgery, and the toe next to the big one eventually was amputated. He was told he may never play sports again. He skated for the first time during hockey tryouts, and he scored four goals and added seven assists for the hockey team this season.

Yes, Worden has told the story before, but it’s worth hearing again.

Mostly because of something inexplicable, a quick reaction and a will to be OK.

Pain beyond belief

When the rock fell and hit his left foot, the pain was unimaginable. Someone in the group put a stick in his mouth for him to bite for the pain. He bit through it.

“The kids yelled, ‘There’s a lot of blood,’” said Rob Meeker, who led the Young Life spring break trip. “That’s where my red flags went up.”

Meeker, who had 13 years of outdoor guiding experience, quickly splinted the foot back to its anatomical shape, and Worden was given oral sedatives.

Worden had been climbing on the rock when it fell. He doesn’t know exactly what happened but said he felt something pull him out of the way.

“I don’t know how I got out of the way,” Worden said.

Eight students helped carry Worden out of the canyon to a waiting helicopter that transferred him to Phoenix.

He had four fractured bones, a couple of compound fractures and the skin on the top of his foot was so bad it required a skin graft. The skin on the bottom of his foot also was damaged, which worried doctors because skin grafts can’t be done on the bottom of the foot.

“The first word that got to me was Jace might lose his foot,” Worden’s dad, John, said. “That was pretty scary.”

Worden spent 10 days in the hospital before coming back to Steamboat.

Road to recovery

Worden was on crutches for more than two months and was told there was a possibility he would never play sports again.

“I was obviously worried,” Worden said. “I was in tears when I was told I couldn’t play sports and possibly not walk, but I remained positive I would be up and walking.”

His father encouraged him to try on his hockey skates, but the swelling in his foot wouldn’t allow it.

One night in the fall, Worden and his father went to Whistler Field to play lacrosse. That’s when his dad knew he would be OK.

“Watching him run that day was a wonderful thing,” John Worden said.

Still, Jace Worden hadn’t skated yet. The day of hockey tryouts, he put on skates for the first time since the injury. There was obvious pain in his foot — he skated through the season with what he called “3 out of 10” pain — but he played through it, made the team and has been a key factor this season.

“You know what you’re getting when Jace is on the ice,” Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said. “You know you’re getting a hard-hitting shift. You know he’s going to move his feet and try and win every little battle.”

The injury changed Worden for the better. He said he’s more thankful for what he has and said he’s looking forward to playing lacrosse in the spring — something that seemed unfathomable at this time last year.

“It’s been amazing,” Worden said. “I’m really grateful for it to happen. I’m optimistic about good things to come in the future.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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