At the hospital, X-rays confirmed just how serious Gareth's injuries were.
Besides the gash on his scalp, which needed eight stitches, his thighbone—the longest and strongest bone in the human body—had snapped in half.
Instead of a long white column, the ghostly image showed two jagged stumps lying parallel to each other inside his thigh.
Fortunately, the clean break had deadened the nerves.
But Gareth's relatively pain-free experience was about to end. To realign the bone, the doctors had to stretch his leg until they could get the two parts to lock into place. It took three people to do it—one pulling on his foot, and two others pushing and shoving his thigh and knee while Gareth writhed in agony.
That night, his legs twitched in his sleep, dislodging the bone, so the whole excruciating procedure had to be repeated.
His operation the next day took five-and-a-half hours—the surgeon had to saw off the ragged ends where the femur had broken, and then run an 18-inch pin through it, fixing it with bolts at either end.
Gareth spent two weeks in hospital, a cage-like contraption around his leg, and another four months on crutches. He was in physiotherapy for the rest of the year.
The doctors warned him that if he broke his thigh again, the pin would bend rather than break, shattering his femur into fragments.
A decade later, though, Gareth says that stark warning didn't scare him. The Smedleys have since moved away from Cooper's Hill to a home near the Welsh border. Sitting in the kitchen with his mother on a rainy afternoon, Gareth admits that he and a friend ran down the slope the following year, after the official race.
True to form, he broke his collarbone.
"You never told me that!" Barbara exclaims, shocked by her son's confession. "You told me you fell down on your way home!"
"Well, I didn't, did I?" A mischievous grin.
To this day, Gareth has an 18-inch scar running halfway down his leg, and if anyone squeezes his knee, he recoils in pain—the bolts holding the pin in place pinch the flesh in his thigh.
His right leg is also shorter than the other, though you wouldn't know it when you see him walking.
After all her family's mishaps, Barbara has become an opponent of cheese rolling. "I would like to see it banned."
However, her son sees things differently.
"I'd like to run it again," he ventures, eliciting the desired reaction from his mother. "Maybe I could finish the race this time."
* * *
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