Visualize It: How a Quadriplegic Climbed His Way Back to Skiing

Where was I? Suffering in outpatient rehab at a level 1 trauma center. It was 2007.

As my physical therapist watched my labored and assisted ambulation as I held onto the parallel bars for dear life, I remember think how much I wanted to be able to ski again. After all it was our family staple sport, having raised our children on the trails of Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia.

I was also raised in a ski family, with four other siblings competing for bed space and butterscotch sauce at the Tamworth Inn in Tamworth, New Hampshire. Skiing was in my blood, and a lifetime of memorable ski experiences brought me solace as I tried to cope with the gravity of this injury. Not even getting caught and buried in an avalanche while helicopter skiing in 1982 had dampened my passion for the sport. I survived and returned two years later to do it again. But this time, perhaps my luck had run out.

How was I going to make that dream happen? I didn’t have an immediate answer.

Visualize It: How a Quadriplegic Climbed His Way Back to Skiing

Visualize It: How a Quadriplegic Climbed His Way Back to Skiing

I was facing significant headwinds. The very bad road cycling accident had damaged my spinal cord in the neck region, resulting in paralysis and all of the associated deficits. I was rendered an incomplete quadriplegic in the wake of the accident, with no clear outcome. Being upright was a good sign — shuffling my legs with assistance, an even better sign — but I was enveloped all the while in a cone of uncertainty. There was no reliable prognosis, and far more questions than answers.

The bicycle frame had collapsed beneath me, and I had crashed head first into the pavement at 25mph. Only two days later in intensive care did I find out what happened. It would take another couple of years before the “why” was answered. I was riding a defective road bicycle.

What next? Time to choose. Surrender, succumb, and let this injury defeat me? Or decide to fight the good fight, and do what it takes for as long as it was going to take?

What next? Time to choose.

Surrender, succumb, and let this injury defeat me? Or decide to fight the good fight, and do what it takes for as long as it was going to take? The choice for me was obvious. There was just this one problem. Every cell in my body was screaming at me – don’t. The mountain is too high. The climb is too difficult. The path is too risky.

Be the moviemaker of your own life

Fight? Yes, I have — but with a twist. I was going to do something I had never done before.


Visualize.

I was going to make a movie in my head of what I wanted to achieve. My goal to ski again became the storyboard for how I approached recovery. I began to form pictures in my head of what it would be like to be back on skis again.

I became a moviemaker. I imagined skiing again in great detail. I thought of everything I could think of about getting back on skis and taking turns down the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain.

I became a moviemaker. I imagined skiing again in great detail. I thought of everything I could think of about getting back on skis and taking turns down the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain.

There were so many things to consider. First, how was I going to be able to sit in a car for the five-hour trip to get there? Where would I stay? How would I adjust to living in new surroundings, and manage chronic pain? Getting in to my ski gear, clamping on ski boots, trying to walk to the car in big clunky ski boots, dosing my medications correctly, wearing adult diapers as a precaution for a compromised bladder, clipping in to skis, trying to maintain balance, assuring myself I could make a turn and stop, getting on/off a chairlift, picking the runs I would take, making contingency plans if I needed help, talking through strategies to get me back upright if I fell down, weather conditions, snow quality, temperature, visibility. All of this and more was the raw material for the movie.

How I visualized my way back to skiing

I became the author, editor, publisher, and scriptwriter.


I put all of this together and played it over and over in my head, refining the visualization countless times until it could play by itself without any conscious prompting. The movie became part of my subconscious being.

I was the actor, producer and director of my own movie.

The long runway to your dreams

For nearly a decade I played this movie in my head, imagining what the perfect day would be like. I wanted to share it with my family, who had suffered along with me for so long. They were anxious to hear me shout the words, “I feel so alive!”

For nearly a decade I played this movie in my head, imagining what the perfect day would be like.  I wanted to share it with my family, who had suffered along with me for so long. They were anxious to hear me shout the words, “I feel so alive!”

In December of 2016, it happened.

The confluence of everything I had scripted in my mind unfolded on December 30. If not for the persistent prodding of my intrepid son, I might not have even gotten out of bed that day. He knew my dream, the day was perfect, and he wasn’t going to let me squander it.

The day played out just I had visualized for almost a decade. Everything I had visualized happened. It was totally epic – a day for the ages!!

It involved so much patience, but it was oh so worth it.

Imagine the unimaginable

Not many quadriplegics get back on skis again without accommodation. Visualizing the recovery, making a movie in my head, leveraging the brain’s innate ability to adapt and reorganize, even in older ones like mine (at age 60) — it was the magical elixir that made the seemingly impossible, possible.

I submit to you that whatever may be aspirational in your life, that whatever big, audacious goal you want to achieve, can actually happen.

How?

Become your own moviemaker. Imagine. Visualize. Realize.

It’s out there, whatever it may be, waiting for you. If someone who ten years later remains paralyzed and always will be can eventually ski down 5,200 vertical feet without falling, there is no doubt that whatever you seek is just a matinee away.


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