Water skiing allows the disabled to rediscover the thrill of the outdoors

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah – Think about the most exciting day you have had recently. It’s the kind of day ten people with neurological disorders spent behind a ski boat in Tooele County on Thursday.

Two Utah physical therapy companies have partnered for more than a dozen years to help their patients experience the thrill of accelerated living.

“Oh my God. I popped up. There’s no way I got up because I was expecting to fall,” Taylor Cutler said, just after waterskiing on a custom ski for the first time.

Once she started skiing, she didn’t want to stop. She felt the kind of excitement that comes from letting go, trying something new and soaking in it.

That’s why the physiotherapists at Mountain Land Physical Therapy and Neuroworx organize adaptive ski days at Last Chance Lakes every summer.

“It literally means the world,” Cutler said.

She was an adrenaline junkie before a car accident five years ago left her paralyzed from the chest down. When she was in the hospital recovering, she said someone gave her a DVD with examples of adaptive sports she might want to try. It was then that she decided she absolutely wanted to try adaptive water skiing.

It had been on his to-do list for several years.

“When I had my accident, a lot of my hobbies and interests changed. So having all these adapted sports just gives me that outlet,” she said.

It’s the kind of activity that has motivated her in other aspects of life. Cutler believes that if she can water ski, she can live her life with few limitations.

“If I can appear first time, I can literally do anything,” she said.

Matt Hansen, physical therapist at Neuroworx, and Rick Libert, physical therapist at Mountain Land Physical Therapy, started these days of adaptive skiing 14 years ago at Last Chance Lakes near Vernon.

“I’ve always been very passionate about water skiing and I’ve always been very passionate about physiotherapy,” Lybbert said. “It seemed like a good idea to put the two together.”

“Everyone who came out today has never skied since their injury and probably never thought they could,” said Hansen. “So to see them come out and thrive, and have fun, is great.”

For people who have lost some of their physical abilities due to life-altering injuries, water skiing offers the opportunity to enjoy the thrill of cruising behind a boat at 20 to 25 mph with water spraying over the face.

“When you suffer a traumatic injury that changes your life, it changes everything. It turns their lives upside down,” Hansen said. “So letting them know that there are opportunities and things to do and have fun while thriving is worth it.”

Michael Hawkins went rock climbing for the first time a few weeks ago and decided to try adaptive waterskiing on Thursday. He had brain cancer two years ago and it deprived him of some of his physical abilities. He loved baseball, snowboarding and hiking.

“I think one of the downsides of being disabled is that you know what it’s like to feel normal. Getting kidnapped is hard. So getting back there is a big deal,” he said.

He said the waterskiing cruise made him feel like he was reclaiming some of those feelings.

“It felt maybe a little bit closer to normal everyday life for me,” he said.

For Hawkins, it’s the payoff because he knows he might not have been alive today.

“There’s just a deep sense of gratitude to be able to come and serve in this way,” Lybbert said. “I think everyone involved, the skiers, all the volunteers, it’s been a great experience for all of us.”

Physiotherapists share the thrills that make patients feel so alive and ready for the next challenge.

“They’re so inspiring and they remind you of everything we all have,” Lybbert said.

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