BENZIE COUNTY — For John Johnson, skiing is one of his passions. At first glance though, you might wonder how Johnson who is wheelchair bound is able to hit the slopes at Crystal Mountain in Benzie County.
“I had an accident back in December 1995 which left me paralyzed from my chest down,” says Johnson.
Yet Johnson doesn’t let this hurdle keep him from remaining active. In the summer of ’96 he joined Northern Michigan Adaptive Sports & Recreation Program through Munson Healthcare.
The program teaches people how to still take part in their favorite sports, despite their disabilities.
“They have equipment where anybody can ski. They can adjust it so anyone with no mobility can ski and have a good time,” says Johnson.
For Johnson, he played sports like basketball, football and of course was a member of the ski team back in high school at Benzie Central. So, it’s only natural that he keep going.
“I knew I either had to feel sorry for myself or I can go and see what I can do for myself. I bike, tree climb, kayaking in the summer,” says Johnson.
There are typically about 30 to 40 volunteers at each event who work side by side with the athletes. Pat Cline is one of those volunteers whose been involved with the program for six years.
“As an instructor we have a record of that performance from the last several years. We’ll actually see how they progressed. To be able to have them get out here and just enjoy northern Michigan and the beautiful sport of skiing, it’s wonderful,” says Cline.
Plus anyone with a disability or certain health condition is eligible to take part.
“We would help someone with a spinal cord injury, someone who has ms, amputation, a stroke, even children,” says physical therapist with Munson Medical Center, Ann Reichert.
Reichert says adaptive sports is all about success.
“I think they’re gaining a lot of independence. I think they’re making a lot of friends, being accepted unconditionally by peers, volunteers, emotionally they have to be feeling wonderful about it,” says Reichert.
“It’s a blessing to be able to see them have a wonderful time. The glow on their children’s faces, those with some issues. They come alive when they’re able to get out on the slopes,” says Cline.
“A lot of people say they couldn’t even do it and they’re standing. I’m doing this stuff and I’m in a wheelchair, so it makes me happy,” says Johnson.
For more information about the Northern Michigan Adaptive Sports & Recreation Program click here.
by Melissa Smith