Injured firefighter on road to recovery
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Dressed in a blue uniform, Larry Hodges smiles easily, cracking jokes with his fellow Fort Wainwright Fire Department members. Though he and his friends have been sharing laughs for years, his position at the department changed after an incident last spring.
Hodges was walking to his camp at Arctic Man in April, when a snowmachine with two riders ran him over. Both of Hodges' legs were badly broken, but the two riders hopped back on the snowmachine and drove off. Hodges' friend, Dan Lepley called after them to stop, but the pair was never found. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen says the case remains open, and officials encourage anyone with information about the incident to come forward.
Days after the incident, Hodges underwent surgery in Fairbanks where doctors inserted two titanium rods to replace tibias that were splintered in the incident. He was told to stay off his left leg for four to six weeks and off his right leg for three to six months.
He began exercising again in late May.
Since then, Hodges has lost more than 25 pounds using a treadmill, walking outdoors and biking.
In mid-September, a couple groups of his supporters — the Ladies of Leisure and Susan's Club of Uncoachable Men — took him on a 30-mile bike ride past Fox. Toward the end, Hodges was worn out and needed pushing from some fellow bicyclists.
"I couldn't have done it without the support of the club," he wrote in an email. "They really are a special group of people."
More recently, Hodges has been taking walks anywhere from two to six miles long. Sometimes he takes his old dog with him, who can keep pace well. Hodges keeps track of his distance and times. His record is a 14-minute, 44-second mile. That day, which was last week, he walked four miles in less than an hour.
"After I get about a mile into me, I loosen up a little more," he said.
After the hit and run, Hodges appealed to his assailants to come forward. In April, he said he just wanted someone to own up to the accident and apologize.
"At first I might have been a little angry with it," he said, but now he sees his situation in a different light.
"I don't know if anybody could have recovered as fast," he said. Hodges was able to go back to a job with his department and receive insurance benefits. "I enjoy the challenges. This was a test."
Hodges is nowhere near being back to normal — his bones are still in their growing stages.
His legs tell the story of his injuries. Scars dot the areas where screws have been removed from the mending bones, and large knots identify the growing bone masses.
On X-rays, between the shards of existing bone, it looks like fluff is growing. He doesn't know how long it will take to heal, but he has been busy trying to help the process.
Thursday, Hodges was at work at Fort Wainwright's Fire Station 3. He used to be a fire engine captain, but now doctor's orders keep him away from the trucks. He has been put in an administrative position mapping buildings on post to make it easier to fight fires with quick decisions. His maps identify hydrants, layouts of buildings, hazardous materials and other things.
His new office is on the second floor of a building, and climbing the stairs is no easy task for him. Going up is much easier than coming down, he said. Many people say he looks great walking on level ground.
"I'm a good faker," he said.
Hodges holds no grudges against Arctic Man. Its creator Howard Thies, has been one of Hodges' greatest supporters, spurring a reward fund to find the snowmachine riders who left the incident. Last spring was Hodges' third time attending the event.
After getting hit by the snowmachine, Hodges' friend Lepley ran to get help from Alaska State Troopers. Hodges has seen support from all across the state in his trek to recovery — his wife, family, fellow firefighters, Fairbanks Grizzlies and Fairbanks Ice Dogs. He plans to be fully recovered for Arctic Man 2012.
"I plan on taking him back," Lepley said with a smile.