HUNTSVILLE — John Czeszel’s life as an adrenaline junkie came to a crashing halt when he fell during a family ski trip six years ago, completely tearing up his right knee.
Skiing as he knew it for 30 years of his life ended in that moment.
Czeszel, 51, went through rehabilitation after his ski injury, but soon developed a limp in his leg. According to his doctor, the trauma to his knee triggered multiple sclerosis, and soon his whole right side became partially paralyzed.
He was devastated, especially since skiing was a big part of his life, having moved to Utah from the east coast for the skiing more than 20 years ago.
The Plain City resident didn’t know how he was going to live a life without skiing.
Three years ago, Czeszel found out about the adaptive ski program at Snowbasin.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie in my head still, but my body just won’t let me do it. This program brought back something I thought I would never be able to do again,” said an emotional Czeszel. “Just being on the mountain again and having the instructors bring me down brings so much happiness to me.”
He sits in a bucket seat mounted to a frame with a shock absorber that is hooked to a ski, pushed by an instructor. Last year, he was able to use outriggers, a type of forearm crutches with small ski tips mounted to the end that the skier uses to help with stability and turning, allowing him to ski independently.
Czeszel controls the mono-ski by leaning his body, with the ski responding with a carved turn. He is currently working to build up strength in his arms so he can get back to using the outriggers again.
Despite not skiing the traditional way, he still experiences the rush of speeding down the hill.
“I get more of an adrenaline rush than I used to skiing because in the sled, it’s something new and so low to the ground that I can still experience the snow flying up on my face,” Czeszel said.
Turning skiing into a reality for people with disabilities is the goal behind the Snowbasin Adaptive Sports Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that uses donations received from fundraisers throughout the year to run the adaptive sports program.
Some of the students who participate in the program have Down syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, Spina Bifida, brain or spinal cord injuries, or even blind individuals who follow an instructor who taps their metal-ended poles guiding the skier in the right direction.
When Jim Bradley, founder of the adaptive sports program at Snowbasin, came out to Utah several years ago after working with a similar program back east, he was surprised to learn there wasn’t an adaptive skiing program set up at the Top of Utah ski resorts. He quickly got to work setting up the program five years ago and has since seen more than 100 students utilize their adaptive instruction.
He teaches instructors to teach people with disabilities, in addition to guiding students in the program down the slopes.
“I do it for the joy because the students give back more than we give them and anyone working with the children will feel the same thing,” Bradley said.
For the Hess family of Farr West, skiing wasn’t on their radar since two of their children have cerebral palsy. When one of those children was invited to participate in his fifth-grade ski day at Snowbasin five years ago, his mom, Laura Hess thought he would just enjoy being with has classmates on the ride up, and then watching them ski down the hill. Little did she know he would join them in a sled he could sit in while being pushed by an instructor from the adaptive sports program.
Hess immediately signed him up for the program, along with his younger sister with cerebral palsy, and has watched them ski for the last several years.
“What I really love about the program is that the kids are always excited for ski day and it keeps them active during the winter months, which is really hard on them because they can’t use their walkers to get around, and can’t ride their specialized bikes,” Hess said.