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Tuesday, December 6, 2011
ARF to offer Medjet memberships

By Colin Bane
ESPN.com

Last April, FMX pro Greg Hartman was seriously injured at the Asian X Games in Shanghai, China and remained in a Chinese hospital for longer than expected.

This week the Athlete Recovery Fund announced that it has purchased 100 MedjetAssist memberships, in order to lock in a group rate, and is offering the first 100 memberships to professional FMX riders, BMX riders, and skateboarders on a first-come, first-serve basis. The move comes after a string of high-profile accidents -- and at least one fatality -- at action sports events abroad, where injured athletes found the cost of being flown home to the U.S. for medical treatment to be prohibitively expensive.

Jay Eggleston at X Games 15 Vert practice in Los Angeles.

"This is one of those things that we never would have imagined had we not experienced it," says ARF founder Aaron Cooke. "But we've now had certain instances where people had to be Medevac'ed or transported from one hospital to a different hospital, and it's very, very costly. For example, one trip from Pennsylvania to Utah was $25,000, and the international rates can be astronomical. What this membership program with Medjet does is it offers a little extra coverage for these guys so that if they're injured anywhere in the world they'll be able to use this membership to get back to the US and to the hospital of their choice. In the long run it's going to save tens of thousands of dollars, and it's a great opportunity because we're signing up with a large group, so it's going to save the athletes tons of money over what it would cost them as individuals."

Cooke started the Athlete Recovery Fund in 2006 after BMX rider Stephen Murray's spinal chord injury at a BMX Dirt event on the Dew Tour, and has since helped dozens of injured athletes and their families with medical expenses, including, most recently, BMX rider Jay Eggleston, FMX riders Greg Hartman and Mike Metzger, and skateboarder Adam Taylor, among others. Cooke says the new program represents a new era for the ARF.

"When we started out we had some short term goals that we focused on, and we've been able to getting towards some longer term goals and address some new problems we've encountered along the way," Cooke says. "Now that we've been able to accumulate the type of fundraising that we have -- not only from the athletes' donations but also from people in the industry, brands, and event organizers -- it's an honor to be at this level where we can support these athletes in a big way as the ARF continues to grow and achieve its goals."

As the action sports contest and demo circuit has grown increasingly international, the potential for athletes to find themselves injured and far from first-class medical treatment has also grown. As a recent example, FMX rider Mike Metzger's injuries at the Sony Ericsson FMX Jam in Bratislava, Slovakia landed him in what he told ESPN was "one of the worst hospitals I've ever been to in my life."

Following a traumatic brain injury in late 2008, professional BMXer Mike Aitken was airlifted from Pennsylvania to his home state of Utah. The cost of the flight was $25,000.

"These athletes are traveling, following the paychecks to different demos and contests and filming opportunities around the world, and the medical care at these events isn't always up to par," says Cooke. "The truth is that the local medical hospitals sometimes don't offer the same quality of care as western medicine offers, and we've now experienced first-hand what it is to have an athlete stuck in a hospital in the middle of nowhere, with no resources to get out of there. Nobody plans on getting injured, but when a serious injury does happen and your first thoughts are, 'Oh my God, how is this hospital going to treat me? How do I get out of here?', that's a major concern. With this membership, these guys aren't going to have to worry about it: They pull out their membership card, they get transferred to the hospital of their choice. it's going to add a level of professionalism and comfort to the sport, especially around some of these international events."

MedjetAssist offers "global travel assistance" as a medical evacuation membership program, arranging medical transfer to the hospital of the member's choice if a Medjet member becomes hospitalized more than 150 miles from home and meets transport criteria. Once ARF's first 100 memberships are claimed, the non-profit will offer discounted memberships to professional action sports athletes for $175 annually (regular memberships for residents of the United States, Canada and Mexico start at $250).

Cooke says he hopes to expand the program, offering coverage to skiers, snowboarders, surfers, and other athletes; the ARF's programs are currently available only to professional skateboarders and BMX and FMX riders.

For more information on the Athlete Recovery Fund, or to make a donation to support its programs -- the ARF is a is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization -- visit www.AthleteRecoveryFund.com.