The fire within

By Abbie Kosoc/El Inde

The fire season back in the year of 2016 was a long one. Thirty year-old Karl Yares and his fellow wildfire responders had been camping out on standby for over a month while awaiting the call to tame a fire. While anxiously expecting calls, Yares and his buddies would pass the time by playing disk golf. Yares described the group as “a bunch of professional disk golfers hanging out.”

Later in the season, Yares and a friend were headed back to where they were camping out and encountered a rather unimaginable situation. It was past sunset and the roads were dark. The flatbed truck they had been driving lost control in the midst of the night. 

Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Yares is a bright and driven individual. He worked diligently to attain his goals, graduating from the University of Arizona in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. He spent the next few years working in the field as an archaeologist as he loved the excavation and survey practice of the profession. Gradually, Yares began to discover the dark aspects of involving oneself in this career path.

“I kind of got a little disillusioned with the community. The people were sort of insufferable know-it-alls and I got a little discouraged,” Yares said. 

Working as a field archeologist, you have to find a new company to work for every time a new job starts — meaning this field offers little stability. The layout of this industry and the culture of the ‘know-it-allism’ got under Yares’ skin and altered his goals. 

One afternoon, while playing disc golf with some friends, Yares expressed his frustration with the contract archeology industry. One of his friends advised him to come work with him for the wildfire response catering company.

The offer was extremely attractive to Yares, as he was told you work hard for about 5 months of the year to make enough money and then hang out for the rest of the year. 

That’s how he began his journey in the wildfire response industry. Yet he was not aware of what would come of this new endeavor. 

On a mild June night in 2016, Yares and his friend’s vehicle lost control and they both ended up hospitalized. Yares’ friend was left with a wrenched back and was able to recover from his injuries. Yares, on the other hand, found himself in the hospital to an unthinkable circumstance.

“I woke up in the hospital with a bar going down my left leg set into my bone. My leg had been twisted beyond repair but they tried to repair it,” Yares said. 

Early on in his care, he had been in and out of a fog due to the many pain medications he was given. In his second time waking up in a fog, he still remained in intensive care and had awoken to a smirking doctor standing over his bed. Yares explained that this doctor said without hesitation, “You know we are going to have to cut that off right?”

Yares was still spinning from the medication. He was taken aback by the doctor’s statement and was not familiar with how to respond to a comment as life changing as he had just heard. 

“That was a lot to take in. But looking back, I’m kind of glad I received that little piece of news so I could start working through it before it happened,” Yares said. 

Although he had been told that he was going to have to lose part of his leg, he still was adamant to make every attempt and get his limb to work again. He spent a great deal of time staring at his toes attempting to get them to move once more.

“You can almost trick yourself into thinking you’re feeling it do something,” Yares said. 

A little over two weeks had gone by before his leg began to go septic. The same doctor that had delivered the devastating news to Yares was also the one fighting to save more of his leg during the amputation process. 

He spent another several weeks in rehab learning how to live his life with a knee disarticulation amputation. 

During recovery, he was able to find a new passion that would allow the healing process to come much easier. He was introduced to adaptive sports which he would continue to follow for the rest of his life.

The inner drive that Yares had seen when attaining his degree in archeology and when spending months as a wildfire responder, was once again restored once he became involved in wheelchair basketball. 

“I’m a real team-oriented person. Soccer was my favorite sport growing up and wheelchair basketball is the post popular adaptive sport because it is so team oriented and fast-paced,” Yares said. 

He described feeling fragile early in the recovery process. He was afraid to fall and would cling to his crutches or wheelchair. Through much practice and perseverance he is now able to hop through his house on just one leg without being worried about anything standing in his way.  

Wheelchair basketball was a considerably large factor in the growth of Yares’ strength and confidence in himself.   

“It just kind of brought home how lucky I am because I was playing against people who had really high spinal cord injuries, who can barely move themselves and they are just living their lives,” Yares said. 

Playing with individuals who have been through difficult injuries themselves helped put things in perspective for Yares. He was able to rationalize his own experience by understanding that there is always something worse that could be going on and that others have hardships they must deal with in their lives, too. This aspect of the community guided him to cope with his new lifestyle and motivated him to conquer what life had thrown at him. 

Yares’ inner love for excavation and uncovering new things is the driving force that has encouraged him to discover the unidentified aspects of himself that arose as a result of losing a portion of his leg.