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Rock Star

From river rocks to sidewalk slabs, local sculptor Michael Grab uses stones to test the laws of gravity.

—Courtesy of Michael Grab

Michael Grab speaks English exclusively, but there’s one question he understands in multiple languages: “Are those rocks glued?” The 30-year-old Boulder artist has gained international fame for his precisely balanced stone sculptures, some of which are nine feet tall. In June, the University of Colorado Boulder graduate will showcase his startling abilities in the Centennial State at the Sonic Bloom Festival in Rye (June 18 to 21), but you can see him practice almost daily this month in Boulder Creek.

Grab first started stacking Boulder Creek’s colorful rocks one sunny summer afternoon in 2008. By 2010, he was spending 20 hours a week practicing his balancing act, even seeking out inspiration from similar artists, such as Bill Dan in San Francisco, to perfect his craft. Now festivals all over the world feature his gravity-defying creations. In the past year, Grab has created rock structures in more than 10 countries, including a performance for international leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Each city Grab visits provides very different materials—from cubic concrete in Brussels to jagged limestone in Croatia. “My goal is to make it look impossible, to make the balance points as small as possible,” he says.

The rocks’ shapes and sizes dictate how Grab positions them. He looks for three points that act as a natural tripod. As the artist places one rock atop another, he says he feels the rocks’ vibrations on his fingertips until the balance point eventually “clicks” and the sculpture steadies. For Grab, the process is therapeutic. “It’s like practicing yoga,” he says. “It’s all about embracing the moment, the time, the place, forgetting everything else and flowing forward. It’s something that’s become kind of a spiritual thing for me at this point.” Zen, in other words—a sentiment that translates in any language.

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Rock Star

Hosting a TV show about survival is nothing compared to what professional rock climber Craig DeMartino already lived through. 

—Courtesy of Mayah Demartino

Rock climber Craig Demartino was cragging with his friend and climbing partner Steve Gorahm in 2002 when a miscommunication led to a 100-foot fall from Sundance Buttress in Rocky Mountain National Park. The error changed the trajectory of DeMartino’s life. A tree interrupted his plummet, causing DeMartino to land on his feet instead of his back; he shattered his ankles and broke his back and neck, among myriad other injuries. During 18 months of painful recovery, DeMartino developed Reflective Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a debilitating neurological disorder that causes chronic, acute pain. Managing it on two legs proved impossible; everyday activities such as playing with his children became exercises in agony as DeMartino lugged what felt like a dead right leg (his most severely affected area) with him when he moved. So a year and a half after the accident, DeMartino decided to have that leg amputated. Three months later, he was back climbing with a prosthetic.

This month DeMartino tackles a new challenge: TV. The Loveland-based professional rock climber (who is still dealing with RSD) hosts Fight to Survive, a new Outdoor Channel series that has its primetime debut on October 4. In the intense nine-episode first season—with an additional special about DeMartino’s saga—actors recreate devastating stories with vivid commentary from the survivors. Unique accounts include a sailor who endured 76 days on a lifeboat post-shipwreck and a father-son duo who were stranded in the forest for 48 hours after crashing their ATV. “When I walk in to interview someone for the show, I have instant credibility,” DeMartino says. “I talk to them as another survivor.”

DeMartino also serves as an example of what is possible. On July 21, 2014, he became the USA Paraclimbing Nationals champion—making a new, happier memory on the 12th anniversary of his accident. “I signed on to Fight to Survive because I liked the idea of showing people not just horrific stories, but what the human spirit is like,” DeMartino says. “People can gain some perspective in their own lives about what is really hard and what isn’t.”


Three more near-death Centennial State stories.

David Torchia
A wrong turn almost cost David Torchia his life. While rafting on the Arkansas River near Salida in July, Torchia, age 22, and six others (including three close friends) went off course and found themselves going over an eight-foot dam. The raft tipped over at the bottom, and Torchia ended up underneath it. He hung on for about an hour before being rescued by firefighters.

Boyd Severson
In 2007, Boyd Severson was hiking solo on Mummy Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park when he lost his way in the midst of an unexpected September snowstorm. The then-56-year-old sheltered between boulders to survive a bitter night (the water in his bottle froze). The next day, he managed to find his way to the trail where he was greeted by the Boulder search and rescue team.

Alex White
A fun day of spring skiing with friends near Cameron Pass in March 2013 turned grim when skier Alex White, who lived in Boulder at the time, got caught in an avalanche. The then-24-year-old was trapped under deep snow, unable to move, for three hours. He breathed through an air pocket until rescue teams arrived.