Nome resident facing long recovery after crash in snowmachine race

Ivory Okleasik suffered spinal cord injuries earlier this month in a popular Western Alaska race, but has support from family and friends
Nome resident facing long recovery after crash in snowmachine race
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 9:29 AM AKDT
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NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - A crash while racing a snowmachine in a popular Western Alaska race earlier this month has left a young woman with serious injuries.

The terrifying March 12 incident involved 24-year-old Nome resident Ivory Okleasik and left her with fractures and dislocations along her vertebrae.

“It was kind of fishtailing, and it just got pretty violent and threw me off the sled,” Okleasik said on a Zoom call.

Okleasik was competing in the popular Nome-Golovin snowmachine race, which features dozens of racers and thousands of dollars in award money.

“Right away, I told them I couldn’t feel my legs,” Okleasik said. “I closed my eyes again, and there was were a bunch of people around, like 10 or 15 people around.”

She said she was “in and out” of consciousness after the incident. While she was on the ground, Okleasik said she wanted to hop back on her snowmachine and keep going, but she couldn’t move.

Soon, she was rushed to a hospital and was quickly given a CT scan, which she said was painful. Okleasik said the scan showed injuries to her thoracic spinal cord along her vertebrae.

“They showed us the cat scan, and my T-11 was dislocated and T-12 was broken,” Okleasik said.

Due to the severity of her injuries, she was medevacked to Anchorage and received surgery the next day.

“It was just so new to her, she was very scared, she was like, ‘I can’t feel my legs, I can’t feel my feet,’ and we both just cried,” her longtime best friend, “EJ” Rochon, said.

“I asked her, I was like, ‘How am I going to do this?’ — we were talking about jumping in the water together — I was like, ‘Who am I supposed to go do that with now?’ and she was keeping her sense of humor and goes, ‘Put a life jacket on me and throw me in.’”

Okleasik said she has had a lot of support throughout her recovery. Rochon has already started a fundraiser to help cover expenses.

“(I’m) trying to support her in any way that I can, and if that’s a way I can support her, I’m going to do it,” Rochon said.

Okleasik’s cousin, Oliver Hoogendorn, is an avid cyclist. In efforts to help her, he decided to donate $2 for each kilometer he biked over the course of three days.

“It’s actually really motivating,” Hoogendorn said. “I’ve never ridden or done anything like that for a cause before.”

Hoogendorn said he has biked over 300 miles (485 kilometers) and helped raise nearly $1,000 towards her recovery. He’s rooting for his cousin.

“I think she heads to recovery sometime in the next few days, so it’s going to be a tough time, but she seems to be in good spirits from when I’ve talked to her,” Hoogendorn said. “You know, I think if anyone can do it she can.”

As for Okleasik, she believes that she will walk again and that this isn’t the end for her and snowmachining.

“I’d be ready to ride a snowmachine again and race and go backcountry and try and do it all,” she said.

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