DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - October 12, 2007

Rising to the occasion

Danville man to unicycle Mount Diablo - while juggling

by Jordan M. Doronila

Blood gushed from the end of his left arm as Chris Hopkins, 21, gazed stunned at his severed hand on the ground. Doctors reattached the hand - but were unsure it would ever work again.

He proved them wrong.

Now, 23 years later, Hopkins juggles with both hands and rides a unicycle - wearing a long-sleeve shirt and tie - on challenging roads.

He is hosting his first "Reach the Peak," a ride up Mount Diablo, collecting pledges to raise money to buy prosthetics for children. He hopes it will become an annual event.

"I love it when someone tells me I can't do something," said Hopkins, a Realtor. "I think perseverance pays off. When everybody has it easy, I don't think people are getting the full life."

His fundraiser will be held Tuesday, Oct. 16, starting at 9 a.m. at the Mt. Diablo State Park's south gate. He will climb onto his unicycle and begin juggling, riding toward the peak of the mountain. Proceeds will benefit the Limbs for Life Foundation, a global nonprofit group dedicated to providing prosthetics for people who can't afford them.

"I wanted it to be hard. It needs to be challenging to be worth it," he said. "We are going out to earn the money. I love different challenges. I face everything head on."

Mt. Diablo State Park Supervising Ranger Dan Stefanisko said he has seen many people bike or hike up the mountain - but not ride a unicycle, much less riding a unicycle while juggling.

"I've never heard of anything like that. It's a pretty neat idea," Stefanisko said. "I wish him luck."

Hopkins grew up near Toledo, Ohio, and moved to California in 1980 to look for gold. He panned the valuable metal in Sierra County and the price of gold was $800 an ounce, he said. He noted he made $3,500 with his two brothers in gathering gold.

"You just have to know where and how to do it," he said.

In March 1984, when he was 21, he was working at a construction job in Rocklin with a saw when he accidentally fell back and his left hand collided with the blade. The saw completely sliced his hand from his arm, and he screamed for help. He said a sheriff was nearby and heard his call.

"Everything was white and my ears were ringing," he said. "I thought someone shot me in the head."

His arm spewed blood, which ran from the driveway to the road.

"The blood squirted straight out," Hopkins said. "I barely survived the accident."

An ambulance took him and his hand to the hospital. Doctors reattached his hand but were uncertain it would function properly.

"They didn't know what to expect," Hopkins said.

They suggested him getting a prosthesis.

"I was pretty scared," he said. "I didn't want any part of that."

Though his left hand was reattached, it had no movement. The hand was in a cast, which was made of metal, and his fingers were laced with rubber bands.

After the accident, he was out of work for six years and relied on workers' compensation and insurance to squeeze out a living.

"Why did this happen to me?" he asked himself at the time. He recalled looking through a window and seeing people getting on with their lives while feeling a lack of control in his own life. He said it was a difficult time for him and he was on intense medication.

"There were moments I wouldn't sleep for a week," he said. "The progress in my life stopped. It was terrible."

However, he finally realized he had to face the conditions of his reality, and he began to make changes.

"I did it slowly, step by step," Hopkins said. "I wanted my life back."

He started from the beginning by relearning simple tasks, such as tying his own shoes. Eighteen months later, he met Lisa, his future wife.

"He was still in a lot of pain," she said recently. "He didn't have use of his fingers."

She said he had to face his challenges.

"I don't think he had a choice," Lisa said. "It's a part of life. It was a trying time."

"You just have to get tough," Hopkins said. "Other people are worse off."

Lisa loved Chris' spirit when she first met him.

"He's fun-loving, energetic and exciting," she said.

Still, he found it challenging when he applied for a job because he had little to show after being out of work for six years. He was hired as a property manager in Orange County where he leased apartments. Within a year, he broke his company's leasing record sales.

Soon, he began to give motivational speeches to other salesmen, and he incorporated riding a unicycle and juggling into his presentations. He wrote books about sales and marketing, and recorded tapes of how to sell. He later went into real estate in 1999 and purchased property.

Meanwhile, as his career boomed, he went to physical therapy. He used an electronic stimulator, exercising his fingers to get his left hand going again. Then, when he was driving in 1990, he noticed his two left fingers curling, which was the first time he had seen them move since the accident.

Although the other fingers don't work, he uses both hands to drive and juggle.

Chris and Lisa, 39, moved to Danville and now are busy raising their two children. Chris has a large telescope and often shares it with students in schools. Kids call him the "Sky Guy."

He said his injury was central to his growth.

"It's the best thing that has happened to me," he said.

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