When Wiley Corra fell nearly 40 feet from a pedestrian bridge outside of Salt Lake City in March 2018, his return to skiing, biking and paddling was never a thought. His life was in the balance.
Corra, who was 15 when the fall occurred, suffered brain damage that affected his language skills as well as motor skills on the right side of his body. Only two weeks before the fall, the son of Andy and Janet Corra had finished on the podium in his age group at the Nordic skiing junior national championships.
Andy Corra said his son “was basically dead” after the fall. After months of recovery, Corra returned to Durango in September and began relearning how to read and walk.
By October, Corra was back on cross-country skis. He competed for the Durango High School Nordic ski team and finished every race. He also competed with the Durango Nordic Ski Club. In the spring, Corra also got back on his mountain bike to ride with friends on his home trails in Durango. He’s also gotten back into a kayak and resumed paddling.
Now 16, Corra’s remarkable return to the sports he loves earned him The Durango Herald Comeback Athlete of the Year award for the 2018-19 school year.
“It’s really exciting and fun being back on skis. I remember how to do it,” Corra said. “It’s been really cool to see everyone racing. They’ve all been really supportive of me.”
Corra made his parents nervous when he raced to get back on his Nordic skis, but he couldn’t resist the snow during a memorable winter. Though he didn’t race in the home high school state championship event this year, he was on the course helping out the event crew and motivating his teammates with a wide smile.
“It’s been a really tough year,” Andy said. “But he’s come a lot farther athletically and in pretty much every way than was ever expected.
“He went from a top-three finish in the nation last year two weeks before the accident to basically finishing dead last in every race this year. But he was so determined and had a great attitude. He would say, ‘OK, next week I’m going to be this much closer.’ By golly, every week he got closer. He’s certainly not back, may never be back where he was, but he’s a determined kid.”
After ski season, Wiley got on his mountain bike and rode with some of his speedy friends such as Ruth Holcomb and Maddie Jo Robbins, two of the fastest junior women in the country.
“I can tell I’m not back to where I was on a bike, but I know what to do and am just sometimes cautious about stuff,” Wiley said. “It’s good I’m coming back, though.”
Wiley’s friends are happy to have him back on the trails.
“Wiley and I have been friends for a long time, and seeing his comeback this year has been amazing,” said Holcomb, who also skis with Wiley. “Every practice he came to, he was always there working hard. He never failed to impress me. The amount of improvement he showed was amazing. Not only did he work hard, but he never fails to put a smile on your face. No matter if we were in the middle of an interval set or waxing skis, he always has something funny to say.”
Wiley also has been working on roller skis to continue his progress in Nordic. Andy said his son does something every day, and the mountain sports he loves have become his physical therapy.
The sport Wiley has looked best in is paddling.
“We don’t have to worry about him falling. Water is a lot softer,” Andy said. “We have a Grand Canyon trip coming at the end of summer. We didn’t think he’d be able to do that, paddle that, but that’s not going to be a problem. He’s going to paddle everything.”
The supportive community of Durango has been key to Wiley’s recovery. With friends to motivate him and a determined attitude, Wiley aims to keep making progress one day at a time.
“I want to make junior nationals in Nordic again,” he said. “To do that, I have to be top 13 in the region for my age group. I first joined Nordic when I was like 5 or 6, and I have loved it ever since. It’s my No. 1 passion in life, and my No. 1 goal is to always be involved in Nordic.”
Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected high school sports players of the year based on a unanimous decision between sports editor John Livingston and sports writer Brendan Ploen. Increased consideration was given to multi-sport athletes who showed leadership in their communities.