Driver Derek Bollinger suffered a life-altering injury during the Hydros for Heroes race Saturday, Aug. 19, in Oak Harbor, but one thing that won’t change is his passion for the sport.
Bollinger’s world changed when he was involved in a two-boat collision. During the accident, he was struck by the other hydro, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
“I will be part of racing in the future,” Bollinger said, “but it will never be as a boat operator.”
Hydroplaning has always been a part of Bollinger’s life.
“I spent my first birthday at a boat race in Silverdale,” he said.
Bollinger’s father, Bob, began racing in 1959, and the family has been hooked on the sport ever since.
“I will be back in Oak Harbor next year,” he said. “I won’t be racing, but I will be holding a flag, working on a crew — something to stay active in racing. I have no hard feelings toward hydroplaning; I love it.”
Bollinger is scheduled to be released from Harborview Medical Center Oct. 10.
He will then return to Lake Stevens and his remodeled home. His employer, West Coast Plumbing, did $30,000 worth of work for free to modify the house to fit Bollinger’s needs.
“I can’t believe they did that,” Bollinger said. “I’m just a regular employee.”
“They are fine people; I never expected them to do that for me.”
Bollinger came to Oak Harbor with high hopes.
“We had a really fast boat this year, but sometimes fate does its thing,” he said.
That thing was a serious accident.
“I broke everything but my toes and fingers,” he said, then rattled off his list of injuries: two brain hemorrhages, two bleeding ears, a broken orbital bone, two torn retinas, a broken sternum, six broken ribs, two collapsed lungs, three shattered vertebrae, a severed spinal column, a “mashed” knee and a heart problem.
He was unconscious and under water for four minutes.
“My helmet was smashed and I was legally dead for four to five minutes,” he said.
“Region 10 Patrol and Rescue, with the help of Medic I, brought me back to life. They reinflated my lungs, got me breathing again on my own.”
He was transported to Harborview by a Naval Air Station Whidbey Island helicopter and underwent a seven-hour spinal surgery.
“I have a new spine built out of metal,” Bollinger said.
One doctor told him he would never walk again; another said he had a 3 percent chance.
“It is pretty grim, but I believe they are wrong,” he said. “I am not going to give up.”
Right now he is “relearning to do the simple things in life everyone takes for granted.”
“I have a good family, a good wife and lots of support,” he said.
“I am doing it, I’m pulling through this, and I will be a better person for it.”
As will the world of hydroplanes.