Whistler local Holly Walker—big mountain skier, world traveler, and fluent French speaker—lists climbing and skiing Mt. Baker as one of last season’s major accomplishments. She barely mentions the fact that she accomplished it after suffering then rehabilitating from a major stroke less than 2 years ago.
At 28 years old, while living and working in Silverton, Colorado, Holly began suffering from unrelenting headaches. After three days, she started to jumble her vocabulary, mixing French and English words and walking clumsily, which alarmed her friends. On the fourth day of headaches, she went to the nearest hospital where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the emergency room. Her family was notified and Holly was flown by helicopter to a larger hospital in Denver.
It wasn’t until six days after her initial headache and a hemorrhaging in Holly’s brain began that doctors in Denver corrected the emergency diagnosis and told Holly she’d had a stroke—possibly linked to the use of birth control. “I was so fortunate to have the support of my family and friends,” Holly says about the corrected diagnosis. She was immediately put on blood thinners to dissolve the clot in her brain and she moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, just two weeks later so that she could be closer to her family and the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Center. “There I worked daily with numerous specialists to get back my mental health and also the strength and control of the right side of my body,” says Holly of her time spent recovering. “I was finally released from G.F. Strong that April and moved back to Whistler.” But with difficulty remembering certain words and complications with motor skills, Holly’s struggle with the impact of her stroke still lingered. “It was a long process to recover,” says the now 29-year-old.
Holly and I just ended an ideal day of skiing together at Mt. Baker Ski Area. And Holly skis, chats, and charms, just as if her stroke never happened. It’s nearly two years later and Holly’s climbed and skied Mt. Baker, worked at Whistler’s Olympics, resumed work as a graphic designer, lives on her own, and is off all medications associated with the stroke. I’ve watched her ski big mountain lines off the Shuksan Arm and hike a thirty-pound pack up a mountain for an overnight ski mission during her recovery. I am always amazed by her motivation to return to life as it was before the stroke.
Having traveled to ski in countries such as Argentina, Chile, France, and India, Holly plans to keep living her nomadic skiing dream and her most important goal for the upcoming season involves a ski trip to Bolivia in May. She’s going to raise awareness about people who have suffered strokes and other physical hardships but, she says, “Most importantly I’m going to demonstrate that these people have the ability to heal and become even stronger than they were before.”
With more than 10 days of riding at Whistler and Mt. Baker already this season, plus a day of heli-skiing and touring, Holly represents that demographic admirably. She is back—even stronger than before.