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Image: Liam Doran

If your friends call you “Lightning,” chances are you’re either very fast, very quick, or a statistic. Trey Lawyer is a statistic—one in 700,000, to be exact, or the likelihood that any single human being will be struck by lightning.

Lawyer joined the club in June 1993, when a bolt nearly killed him in downtown Breckenridge. He was 21 at the time, two years removed from ditching his native Tulsa for a life among big peaks. The strike sent Lawyer into seizures in front of a stunned friend; then, he stopped breathing. He flatlined for seven minutes before local firefighters shocked him with a defibrillator and revived him.

Lawyer, a local builder who skis the steeps and stands 6-foot-6 (hence his other nickname, Tall Trey), has no memory of being jolted that day, but he does remember a handful of other brushes with lightning. Here, the 43-year-old shares what lessons he has learned and why he remains unafraid of natural electricity.

The day I got struck by lightning, I was at a friend’s house on Broken Lance Drive. I stepped out on the patio, and I remember looking up and saying, “Man, those clouds are dark.” That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in the hospital six days later.

They call it the “halo effect.” The bolt hit a nearby tree, and I was so close to the tree that the surrounding energy field nailed me, too. I had black spots on my knee and toe, and all of the blood vessels in my stomach rose to the surface. It looked like an upside-down oak tree.

The doctors induced a coma. I was in the hospital for two and a half weeks. My memory lasted for only 30 seconds once I woke up. I’d walk around town and see people I’d known for years, and I couldn’t remember their names.

Many years later, I was out skiing in April when a storm blew in really fast. I was with my friend Jen and raised my poles, and felt a jolt go through them. It freaked me out. Then, as I was poling across the mountain, all of a sudden I heard the poles humming. I was like, “We gotta go down, now!”

She didn’t believe me. “What is your problem?” she asked. We skied halfway down Y Chute and BOOM! This massive crack hit right up on top of Peak 7.

Another time I was going up to get paid for a job on Baldy. I stepped out right when lightning hit behind my friend’s home. It sent a charge through me, but it didn’t knock me down.

What lightning advice would I give? Pay attention to the little things. Because the signs are supersmall. Like the little shocks in your fingers: you’ll barely feel them. Or if you see your friend’s hair standing up, that’s pretty telltale. Maybe carry a foam pad, like a Therm-a-Rest, in the afternoons if you’re hiking up high. You can put it down and insulate yourself if a storm does come through. But mainly just pay attention to Mother Nature, man, because she will beat you down.

I’m not afraid of lightning, but I’m aware of it. The biggest thing it gave me in 1993 was an appreciation for life. I don’t need to be rich; I want to live rich. 

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