Rhett Harkins, general manager of Price Hill’s BLOC Coffee Company, plummeted 60 feet from a cliff while hiking Haystack Rock in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge on Dec. 14. The injuries he sustained included a broken ankle, femur, hand and shoulder, along with a shattered heel. Luckily, he did not seriously damage his spine or head.
“It could have been a 300-foot drop if I fell differently,” says Harkins, who returned to work Jan. 7. He currently needs the aid of a wheelchair.
A fundraising competition for Harkins, titled the “Thursday Night Throwdown: Put Rhett Back Together Again Edition,” will pit local baristas’ latte-art skills against one another. The proceeds from registered contestants, along with any donations, will aid Harkins — who does not have medical insurance — with the mounting financial strain of hospital bills.
A latte is a coffee beverage made with fresh espresso and steamed milk, which, when poured carefully, can create beautiful and often quirky images made with contrasting shades of brown and cream; baristas are known to become quite adept at creating traditional and original works of latte art.
Adam Shaw, lead roaster of Deeper Roots Coffee, was with Harkins when he fell.
“Rhett handed me his phone so I could get a photo of him nearer the edge,” Shaw says. “Rhett wasn’t super close to the edge, but slipped on an ice-covered rock graded toward the edge, so he basically just slid 15 feet before falling off.”
“It was very beautiful where I landed,” Harkins adds. “I found a cave I had never noticed before.”
Shaw contacted emergency aid after he realized he was unable to get to Harkins himself.
And it took four hours in rainy, 35-degree weather for a rescue crew to reach Harkins. He was suffering from hypothermia, on top of his broken bones, but managed to resist going into shock and remained conscious.
After a short hospital visit, Harkins was taken home. A wheelchair ramp built by loved ones now helps him come and go. In his living room there is a bed where a couch used to be, as he is currently unable to go upstairs to the room he usually shares with his wife.
This isn’t the first time the Harkins family has been touched by the generosity of their community; just last year their daughter was born several months early, resulting in difficulties that were soothed by the kindness of friends and family.
Soon after the cliff ordeal, members of Missio Dei, the church Harkins attends in Walnut Hills, arranged a transportation van suitable for him in his current condition.
“To see the same folks and a lot of new folks come out of the woodwork to help me is amazing,” Harkins says.
“I believe that we have some incredible coffee professionals here,” Shaw adds. “The infamous kindness of Midwesterners fused with the small feel of our city has allowed those professionals to maintain a fairly tight-knit community willing to build into each other when needed.”
Deeper Roots Coffee, where Shaw roasts, provides beans and blends to many of the city’s coffee shops, including Harkins’ spot at BLOC Coffee Company. Shaw and his colleagues arranged to raise funds to help with Harkins’ situation shortly after the injuries occurred.
“I learned about Thursday Night Throwdown through the Deeper Roots newsletter,” Harkins says. “I called and texted everybody immediately to thank them. It’s such an appropriate event. I’m so appreciative. ”
Any interested baristas need only show up and register at the event Thursday; there is a $5 registration fee. Contestants will be competing for prizes provided by La Marzocco USA espresso equipment.
“The requirements to enter are just that you’re willing to compete at a latte art competition and have enough competence to steam milk,” Shaw says. “All friends and family are welcome to come watch and hang out. We intentionally don’t want only coffee nerds to show up.”
According to the hosts of the event, there will be potluck finger foods, beer from Rhinegeist and Mt. Carmel Brewing Company and “conversation for those not gifted in the art of lactose manipulation.”
Will Harkins ever explore the hidden cave he found when he fell?
“I’d love to rappel back down to that spot,” he says, “when I’m able.”
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