Just Breathe: A Story of Survival and Gratitude

When Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth lost his arm in a skydiving accident, his breath and a gratitude practice were integral to his recovery.

In a traumatic skydiving accident in 2013 that cost Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth his right arm, the words “just breathe” just may have saved his life. The experienced skydiver had spent a number of years practicing and perfecting his craft—always taking his jumps to new heights. But while he may know a more extreme case of what it means to “find your edge,” it was Wirth’s emotional resolve that allowed him to make such a remarkable recovery.

His deep passion for skydiving has now evolved into a lust for life—a thrill to wake up every day and still be alive. The accident—which landed him unexpectedly into a vineyard as he made a potentially life-saving decision to deviate from power lines—ripped his right arm from his body. He spent three months in the hospital, underwent 24 surgeries, and fortunately, if not miraculously, the doctors were able to reattach his arm.

A longtime Pearl Jam fan, the song, “Just Breathe” entered Wirth’s mind at the moment he realized his arm was detached. “One of the things you do to avoid shock is concentrate on your breathing,” he recalls in the video below. So Wirth used his breath as a powerful tool not just to focus on the present, but also to save his life. And as death loomed in that moment and those words reverberated throughout his mind, he also found that he was able to find peace by accepting that he could die. But he didn’t—and for that, he is eternally grateful.

These days, Wirth might not be able to fly like he used to, but if anything, he has learned to soar to new heights. If there’s anything we can learn from this story it’s that it does not serve us to focus on the things we cannot do. Instead, by practicing gratitude for all of the things that we can do, we create space for our spiritual growth—we evolve and ascend. We learn to fly.

andrea-rice-headshot-new-editAndrea Rice is a Senior Writer for Wanderlust Media. She is also a freelance writer, editor, and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, SONIMA, mindbodygreen, AstroStyle, and other online publications. You can find her regular classes at shambhala yoga & dance center in Brooklyn, and connect with her on InstagramTwitter, and on her website