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Injured rider returns home to family, friends, horses and dogs

Costa hopes to eventually ride again
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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After a long stay in a San Francisco rehabilitation center, Crystal Costa, a downed horse rider, has made it home.

Last Saturday, Costa, 50, came in through the decorated gates of her ranch in Cool. Handmade banners by Costa's son and neighbor reading "Welcome Home, Crystal" still hang a week later.

Costa is now a paraplegic after she suffered a broken back after an equestrian accident in June.

"Even though I know how sad it is I can't let it do that to me. I have to make the most of it and make it work," Costa said.

The accident happened while Costa, who has ridden horses for 40 years, was training to ride in the Tevis Cup near Francisco's checkpoint. The Tahoe-Sierra 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race was happening at the time, but Costa didn't know that.

"Always find out if there is a bike race on the narrow trails and on trails where you'd never think there would be bike," Costa said. "Riding horses, riding bikes, hiking out on the multiuse trails, it's a gamble."

Jon Hyatt, of Granite Bay, was around mile 85 into the Tahoe-Sierra 100 when he noticed three horseback riders ahead, one of them being Costa. Hyatt, who was in fifth place at the time, acknowledged the three riders and proceeded to go around a green gate and past them.

As Hyatt maneuvered around the gate, his bike tire slid in loose gravel and one of his shoes came unclipped from his bike peddle. The racket from the loose gravel and the unclipped shoe startled Costa's horse, along with one of its protective boots coming undone.

For the first time in her 40 years of riding, Costa knew she had to bail, and unfortunately when she did she landed on rocks, which broke her back, specifically the T10, T11 and T12 vertebrae.

"I was laying there thinking ‘I can see my legs, and I know they're on the ground, but I can't feel them,'" Costa said.

Hyatt stayed with Costa while her fellow riders called for help and managed the horses. Costa said David Gordon, a former Vietnam medic, happened to be trail running that day and was of immense help to her and Hyatt, who positioned Costa on top of him with the back of her head on his face. That allowed her to breathe easier.

"I have no bad feelings. I'm glad it was Jon, because he's such a good person," she said. "Jon was acting as the backbone at that point holding me there and David was orchestrating everything. It's weird how you become so secure with strangers so quickly in a situation like that."

It took the Foresthill Fire Department an hour to get out to where the accident happened. Costa was eventually flown out via helicopter to Sutter Roseville Medical Center, but that flight was delayed because at the time the Robbers Fire was burning.

Eventually, Costa had to be transported to a rehabilitation center in San Francisco. In addition to a broken back, she had a broken eye socket and a broken nose.

As soon as she was able to, she learned how to transfer herself from her wheelchair and do almost everything she needs to do on her own.

"Even though I've got most of my balance back I'm still a little awkward," she said.

While Costa was in the hospital her home was a hotbed of activity. Her longtime friend, Dan Schafer, created the Crystal Costa Recovery Foundation with the intention of making Crystal's ranch accessible via wheelchair.

Costa has eight dogs, most of which she rescued while she worked at the South Auburn Veterinary Hospital. She also has seven horses, two of which are being taken care of by friends. Her 15-year-old son, Wyatt, is lending a hand feeding the dogs before he goes to school, but he can't do it all.

"On the way home from the hospital I was thinking things like, ‘How am I gonna pick up dog poop?'" she said. "When animals are your life you think of those things."

Schafer's fundraising efforts have resulted in $16,000 in donations in recent weeks. That's enough to cover the cost of installing an irrigation system throughout Costa's ranch, rebuilding an arena, and resurfacing areas that need to be made wheelchair accessible.

Schafer added that Hyatt's family is responsible for part of those donations.

"It's been so enriching seeing what some people will do and how far they will go," Schafer said.

Costa's back porch is also being rebuilt so she can go from there to the barn near her house. Her downstairs bathroom was recently renovated free of charge by Ron Cirimele, of Belereve Construction of Lafayette, and Tom Wolfe, of Tracy. Neighbors have stepped forward and helped clear some of the land behind Costa's house.

"It's a lot of activity, but every time I look out and see all of these people helping me I want to hug them and cry," she said. "I'm so lucky to have such great family and friends."

Costa is still adjusting to her new life and the obstacles she might have to face, but she still has a yearning to get back on a horse.

That won't happen for at least a year, doctor's orders.

"Despite this being a tragedy I'm grateful to still have my brains, that I'm not a quadriplegic, that I get to see my son grow up. I have to remember that being a horse person this happened while I was doing what I love and some day I'll get back on a horse," Costa said.