- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Grant Watkins shifted from his wheelchair onto a stool in the ceramics studio at the Art Association of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

He smiled and patted a clump of clay and threw it on the pottery wheel. As the wheel began to spin, Watkins set to work handling the clay and forming a medium-size bowl.

Watkins has been visiting the studio almost daily, starting in mid-March, after he broke both his legs in an early February skiing accident.

“It wasn’t a question of what am I going to do,” the 29-year-old said. “I knew I needed to keep a really strong head and be really positive about everything.”

Watkins‘ recovery included several surgeries and three months off his feet, which made him pretty immobile and unable to go to his job as a chef at Sudachi.

But because the ceramics studio is on the first floor of the building, and because Watkins can bend his right ankle to press the pedal of his wheel, he can create pottery.

“It’s nice to be physical with something,” Watkins said. “It’s hard not being able to stand.”

Watkins was skiing in Granite Canyon on Feb. 7 when he followed a friend over a drop. He knew immediately that it wasn’t going to end well.

“I was in the air and I knew my landing was going to be pretty bad,” he said.

There were tree saplings in the landing. He braced himself for impact, hitting a larger tree and breaking both legs.

The rescue took hours and involved his skiing partner, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski patrol, and Search and Rescue personnel.

“This was the first time I’ve really been put in a place where it was so bad,” he said.

Watkins had his first surgery on Feb. 23 to stabilize his right leg, which had breaks in his tibia and fibula.

“They did a titanium rod in my right leg, and then in the left leg there was some severe crumpling of my tib-fib,” he said.

The left leg was in worse shape. He suffered a pilon fracture, and the two lower leg bones were crumpled together. In the original surgery doctors put in an external fixation to stabilize the bones and restrict movement. Later they put in plates with 25 screws.

“We have a phenomenal crew of surgeons who are so dialed,” Watkins said. “It’s impressive. It’s nice and refreshing to be in the presence of people like that.”

He talked about how Dr. Rafael Williams, an orthopedic surgeon at St. John’s Medical Center, even made a home visit.

“They’re really great,” Watkins said. “They care.”

Watkins said his recovery can be tough sometimes, but the support system he has in Jackson has been incredible. It’s helped him maintain his positive outlook through the long weeks of surgery and healing.

In the few weeks Watkins has spent in the ceramics studio he has already made over 20 mugs, bowls, plates and vases. He banters with the other potters in the studio and has become quite the regular.

He’s also hoping to give some ceramics to his rescuers, but he is waiting until he can walk for that project.

“I really like to gift things,” he said. “It’s nice to have a cup of coffee out of something that’s a handmade vessel that a friend made.”

Working with the clay helps Watkins get out of the house and have something physical to work on. He started making pottery in high school and worked in the ceramic studio before, but his attendance has spiked since his accident.

“Clay is a really fun medium,” he said. “You can kind of do whatever you want with it.”

Watkins has taken over the low shelves in the studio, but he stays aware of the other people using the studio.

“I try not to be too selfish in here,” he said. “There are a lot of people who work in here. I like to be pretty conscious of how much I’m doing. I want to make sure everyone else can get stuff in the kiln and share it.”

While an injury so severe could put a lot of people down, Watkins came through positive and humble. He brought the same mentality to his pottery as he inspected the bowl-shaped piece of clay on the wheel and its sloping side.

“No attachment whatsoever,” he said as he smashed the bowl and pushed it off to the side. “It’s just clay.”

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Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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