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Folsom writer helps climber tell inspiring story

By: Margaret Snider, Telegraph Correspondent
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When rock climber Craig DeMartino plummeted 100 feet from a cliff, the rescue crew didn’t expect him to live more than an hour. His multiple injuries resulted in the amputation of one leg below the knee and pain that continues to plague him.

Folsom-based freelance writer Bill Romanelli found out about DeMartino through a serendipitous connection in 2009. A woman who saw a newspaper story seven years after the event responded to Romanelli’s e-mail requesting sources for an article on extreme sports.

“I really think there’s a book here,” Romanelli said after talking to DeMartino. DeMartino responded that he’d wanted to write a book and just didn’t know how to start.

“After the Fall,” now available from booksellers, tells the story of the climber’s determination, recovery, and renewal.

It was July 21, 2002, when DeMartino fell at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. An avid and experienced climber, he recalls the fall, a result of miscommunication between himself and his partner.

“I remember thinking there was a lot of slack in the system, and then realized I was falling and not stopping,” DeMartino said. “I pushed off the rock so I could see where I was falling to, and was shocked at how fast I was falling. The next thing I remembered was looking up at the cliff from the rocks below.”

While recovery from the traumatic injuries is miraculous, said Romanelli, the central point of the story is really DeMartino’s spiritual discovery along the way.

“He was sitting in the hospital bored out of his mind and he had a daily devotional next to his bed,” Romanelli said. “He picked it up on a date in August, but he opened it to the date of his accident . . . The headline said ‘How far will God go to get your attention?’ And instantly he just had this realization about his relationship with God and how superficial it had been.”

The whole experience led DeMartino to reevaluate and reexamine his faith.

“I didn’t think that my relationship with God was or should be the top thing in my life,” DeMartino said. “Now I understand that as long as I keep that as a priority, all the other stuff gets taken care of.”

DeMartino’s wife, Cyndy, also a climber, handled the family responsibilities and supported her husband through the process of healing and recovery.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” Cyndy said. “But I feel a real appreciation for each day, that comes from having a perspective on life after seeing what we can lose.”

Now 47, DeMartino continues to climb.

“I still find my body is pretty beat up, so I’m always having to deal with that,” DeMartino said. “I keep wanting to push and see what I can do with climbing and life, so a lot of days I pay for that.”

Since the fall, DeMartino has climbed El Capitan at Yosemite four times, the first amputee to accomplish the climb in under one day. Last June he led the first all-disabled ascent of El Capitan. In September, he won a bronze medal at the paraclimbing world championships in France, and won five gold medals in this country in Extremity Games for the disabled.

“I feel like I got a second chance, and I want to experience life, not just go through it,” Demartino said.

He and Cyndy met each other through climbing, and she is his most frequent climbing partner. His children also have become interested in serious climbing.

“It’s weird to say that climbing is really, really safe; it’s just that you have to pay attention and never let your guard down,” DeMartino said. “I’m an example of what happens when something does go wrong. We try to mitigate the danger as best we can.”

DeMartino is happy with the way the book turned out.

“Bill is an amazing, easy guy to work with,” DeMartino said. “He had to listen to me drone on for about a year on the phone, and was just able to really capture how both Cyndy and I speak.”

Currently, Romanelli is considering other book possibilities.

“You get a chance to help other people tell their story,” Romanelli said. “I just feel like it’s kind of a natural thing for me to do.”

The book is available at most major book retailers, including amazon.com.