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Horseback rider breaks back during mountain bike race

Racer stayed with rider for hours
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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A Cool woman is recovering from a broken back and head injuries after she was thrown from her horse last weekend during the Tahoe-Sierra 100.

Jon Hyatt, of Granite Bay, said he was around mile 85 into the Tahoe-Sierra 100-mile mountain bike race when he noticed three horseback riders up ahead.

Hyatt had just left the Foresthill portion of the course that led him down to the middle fork of the American River where he found the three horseback riders at a green gate. Among those riders was Crystal Costa, who was training with her horse, Sam, for the upcoming Tevis Cup.

Costa, 50, and her fellow riders stopped at the green gate and asked Hyatt, who was in fifth place overall at the time, if he wanted to go around. After their mutual acknowledgement that Hyatt would go around first, he proceeded to do so.

That's when Hyatt said in a race report "my race ends and Crystal's fight for life begins."

As Hyatt maneuvered around the gate, his bike tire slid in loose gravel and one of his shoes came unclipped from the bike peddle.

The combined noise from the sliding tire and unclipped shoe startled the horse, Hyatt said. Once Sam started panicking, one of his hoof boots partially came off, causing him to rear back so hard Costa was sent falling backward, breaking two vertebrae in her lower back, her eye socket and her nose.

"The race became secondary pretty fast," Hyatt said. "In the big scheme of things the race was a non-issue at that point."

Sam took off after Costa fell and Hyatt, who coaches a high school mountain bike team, moved Costa out of direct sunlight and off of the trail. One of the other riders left to call for help, but due to the remoteness of their location did not arrive for several hours.

At that point, Hyatt said Costa was bleeding heavily from her head and could not feel her legs. She was in a great deal of pain and was having trouble breathing.

While they waited for emergency crews to arrive, Hyatt positioned Costa so she was laying on top of him with the back of her head on his face, which was the most comfortable position for her that allowed her to breathe easiest at the time.

Mary Nelson, Costa's sister, said this stabilization was critical.

"I just want to stress that he did everything right. He saved her life," Nelson said on Thursday. "He was lying underneath her and would not let her go."

The Foresthill Fire Department arrived about an hour after the accident, but Costa had to be flown out via helicopter to Sutter Roseville Medical Center. The helicopter was also delayed because it was originally being used to battle the nearby Robbers Fire.

Since then, Costa has had surgery on her back, according to Nelson. Now she has some feeling in her feet and is being transferred to a rehabilitation facility in San Francisco.

Hyatt said he has visited Costa in the hospital everyday and intends on visiting her in San Francisco along with Jim Northey, director of the Tahoe-Sierra 100.

Northey said he's an advocate for mountain bikes and equestrians to use local trails harmoniously and that all that matters now is that Costa recovers. He said there were required signs throughout the Tahoe-Sierra course to alert other people using the trail that a mountain bike race was happening. There was also an alert over the weekend on parkwatchreport.org.

"All we care about is that she comes out of this in good health," Northey said.

Nelson said she and her family feel the same way. Since Costa has been in the hospital her 15-year-old son, Wyatt, friends and family have rallied around her.

"It was just a freaky, weird thing, but it was nobody's fault," Nelson said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.