Kimberly Birkenfeld had it all at 37 - an MBA from Harvard, a successful consulting business, the No. 1 ranking among women windsurfers on the U.S. Sailing Team, all leading into a week with her boyfriend Magnus Liljedahl at his birthplace in Sweden.
After a flight together to Amsterdam, where they parted, he returned to his adopted home in America to sail in the Nautica Star Worlds at Marina del Rey. She went on to the pre-Olympic regatta at Athens.
"It was the epitome of my sailing career," she said. "I couldn't have been happier that I had earned the right to represent the [U.S.] in the Olympic test event. I had everything lined up. Then the next thing I knew I woke up in Oregon."
Aug. 8, 2002, a year ago today from this publication date, was the day Birkenfeld's life crashed. She didn't feel a thing. She remembers nothing.
About a half-hour before a race start, she was involved in a violent collision with a rival team's inflatable chase boat. It was piloted by Bruce Kendall, a New Zealand coach and former Olympic gold and bronze medallist. There were no witnesses - none who came forward, anyway - other than Julia Conrad, a German windsurfer who was riding along with Kendall.
Birkenfeld suffered severe traumatic brain injury, spinal-cord injury, and the effects of nearly drowning. Doctors told her that only her athletic fitness kept her alive.
Kendall told Greek authorities that he turned his boat and saw a sailor coming right at him. Conrad supported that account. Birkenfeld, in a coma for a month and unable to think clearly long after, was in no position to dispute them. Until now.