‘I’m back in the saddle, again’

For toboggan Chute Master Stuart Young, it was never a question about getting back on top

Posted:  Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 6:00pm
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CAMDEN — Many in the community have been following the personal journey of Ragged Mountain Toboggan Chute Master Stuart Young since he underwent a life-saving amputation in November of his lower right leg. After dealing the past five years with serious infections and constant pain, it was time.

I recently sat with Stuart in the Camden Snow Bowl lodge, where you can sometimes find him visiting others and cracking jokes. How was his recovery coming along? Is he ready to get back to the top of the chute this weekend, Feb. 9-11, for the 28th annual US National Toboggan Championships?

I figured we’d talk for an hour and then I’d be on my way. That didn’t happen, however.  

Why? 

A long, and nonstop, train of friends and well-wishers dropped by the table, many of whom hadn’t seen Stuart since his surgery. They were checking in with him, giving the Chute Master hearty hugs, sweet kisses on the cheek, and words of encouragement. There was laughter, because that’s what there usually is around Stuart, and smiles. Old friends, skiers, Snow Bowl staff, ski patrollers, even the Bagel Cafe chef took a quick break from preparing lunch — everybody wanted to see him.

And they asked him, ‘will you be back at the top of the chute for the Toboggan races?’

For Stuart, the short answer was a no-brainer.

“Of course,” he said.

Stuart's association with the Snow Bowl, and the toboggan chute, go way back. His mother, Dorothea (“Dot”) Young was an active volunteer at the Snow Bowl in the 1960s as a member of the Camden Women's Club. She sold hot dogs, hot chocolate, coffee and other refreshments, planned dances, and traveled to Massachusetts and Rhode Island to visit owners of land adjacent to the Camden Snow Bowl, encouraging them to sign paperwork that deeded some of their land over to the recreation area.

She was integral to raising funds to keep the mountain running, which was privately owned at the time.

"Back then, there were more volunteers than staff," Stuart said. "Volunteers even sold lift tickets, which they stapled to skiers' jackets."

Even though his mother wasn't a skier, Stuart was, learning with to ski with his brother, Craig, when he was five years old, and riding first the tow-rope, and then the T-bar to get to the top of the mountain. 

Stuart's father, Aubrey, also helped to raise money to support the Snow Bowl. He was a member of the Camden Outing Club, an active group from 1936-1981, which lead the development and operation of the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area.

While Stuart’s parents, and many others who worked hard to make the Snow Bowl a much loved community ski area, Stuart carries on the legacy, and is an encyclopedia of Ragged Mountain history. His surgery certainly wasn’t going to prevent him from assuming his position at the top of the chute.

And this year will be especially sentimental for Stuart, given that the community recently said goodbye to longtime Ragged Mountain friend Jack Williams, whom Stuart regarded as a father figure. The wooden run is officially named the Jack R. Williams Toboggan Chute, commemorating the man who, along with Ken Bailey, established the Toboggan Nationals in 1991.

The decision Stuart made to be back at the helm was made even before he had his surgery in November. And that surgery had to be moved up by a few weeks, given another serious infection that he suffered.

He had been told by doctors and nurses after his surgery at Pen Bay Medical Center, in Rockport, to expect some depression after the amputation. But Stuart stayed positive by dreaming about getting back to the top of the chute.

“I want to keep going,” he told his team of caregivers.

After being discharged from the hospital, the next step in his recovery was rehabilitation so he could to start bonding with his new prosthetic leg. He went to Quarry Hill at the beginning of December to begin therapy.

“Many told me that they saw the determination in my eyes,” he said.

After two and a half weeks at Quarry Hill, Young was able to return to his apartment in Camden, now with a ramp installed and began working closely with a physical therapist who came to his home. He was still healing and learning to walk without his lower leg, all in preparation for receiving his new prothesis, which he did Jan. 30.

Now he is spending several hours a week at the YMCA in Rockport with another physical therapist, learning how to tackle steps with his new prothesis and walking on a modified track.

And he will be back to driving within a few weeks.

Young said he sold his pickup truck and now has a van with special accessories.

“I’m really excited about getting out to the grocery story and seeing people,” said Young. “I plan to attach a basket to my walker for groceries. I may not be able to buy a lot at once, but that’s OK.”

His travel vehicle this weekend at the races will be a 4-wheeler, getting him to the top of the mountain where he will walk to his place at the top of the toboggan chute.

Young said he will be “back in the saddle again,” a verse he has taken from the rockband Aerosmith’s song of the same name.

I’m back in the saddle in the saddle again.

I’m back.

Ridin’ high.

Reach Sarah Shepherd at news@penbaypilot.com