I got the following email from my friend Andy Dahmen:
One of the challenges of dealing with a disability is remembering the things you use to do. I broke my neck 8 years ago when I was 45 years of age. Now I am a complete C-6 quad. Prior to my paralysis I was very active outdoors and was somewhat of an extreme skier. I grew up in Utah where skiing is such a commonplace in life. I started skiing when I was very young and skied all different kinds of terrain. As I got older I got tired of the crowds at the resorts and I back country skied a lot. Something I very much enjoyed right up till I got hurt.
After getting hurt many people tell you how fulfilling life can still be after your injury. I totally agree with that, but there are some things still hard to do because you reminisce about how it “use to be”. Skiing was that way for me. I was invited to go skiing with different organizations in my area as soon as I was strong enough to get out. I struggled because I was limited to where I could go, basically the bunny hill, and I was not independent, one of those things I continually battle. I don’t have enough arm strength to ski independently as some of the higher functioning SCI people are able to do. Plus, I am not that fond of the cold anymore, yes, I am a professed cold boob.
Fortunately for me I have great friends that keep inviting me to go out. I have to admit the last couple of times out I have really enjoyed it. I ski in what is called a cart ski. It is a ski bucket mounted to a frame with two regular skis attached. The frame is a little wider which results in more stability. The skis can be controlled by what I call joy sticks. With the joy sticks you can move the skis in different positions to help turn and to slow things down. I use some adaptive gloves to help keep my hands on the joysticks. It is a lot of work for a person with minimal triceps, but it is a good workout. The workout also helps keep your body temperature up. I do have a lot of control, but I still need another skier tethered to me so I don’t break anything else. I also use a heated jacket under my parka that helps keep me warm.
Even on the cart ski it took a little practice before I was doing much independently, but now I kind of get into this zone where it is just me and the snow. It is a great, somewhat liberating feeling. I am also lucky I have a guy that is basically willing to take me anywhere I dare. I have started into a hill that is steep and my adrenaline gets going from the excitement. It is hard to imagine, but I can compare it to when I was younger and would drop off a 25’ cornice into a big bowl of powder that was so steep it feels like you are defying gravity. Maybe not that much adrenaline, but I am not that young and dumb anymore either.
As with everything you are not going anywhere unless you try. The skiing at first after my injury was not that exciting, but I kept at it and grew to like it. There are lots of things in life out there even for the disabled to go out and try. Abled-body or disabled we all have things we remember doing, things we “use to do”. The secret is finding the new challenges and enjoying everything possible life is giving you.
The day I went skiing I went with the TRAILs (Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Lifestyles) program through the University of Utah. There are 3 organizations in Utah that will take you skiing and cater to people with disabilities at all levels and all abilities. TRAILs unfortunately does not have a web site but you can contact them through their Facebook page. Wasatch Adaptive Sports and the National Ability Center both have programs for disabled skiing.