For many people with disabilities, sometimes the challenge is merely being included—in sports, in activities, in social gatherings. To cross that barrier, to be able to do what you thought you might not, can be a life-changing experience.
That’s the message of Dr. Jon Myers, a Twin Falls-based physician and director of rehabilitation services for St. Luke’s in the Magic Valley. Myers—who suffered a spinal injury as a passenger in a car accident when he was 22—will talk about his experiences with adaptive sports as a special guest speaker at nonprofit Higher Ground’s annual Supper Club fundraising event Thursday, April 1, at the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum.
Ketchum-based Higher Ground uses recreational therapy—activities ranging from adaptive skiing to dance, kayaking and tennis—to enhance the lives of veterans and people across the nation with a range of physical and mental abilities. Myers—a specialist in treating patients with neurological issues, including people with brain and spinal injuries—is now a participant in Higher Ground’s programs, as well as a cooperative partner who refers patients to the organization.
“It provides people with a sense of inclusion, which is a powerful thing,” he said Monday.
Myers was an athletic student when he was injured and his life was changed. He has difficulty walking. He wasn’t a skier but he was attracted to the mountains. He and his family eventually settled in Twin Falls and his two young children, a boy and a girl, started skiing at Dollar Mountain. He enjoyed watching them improve and revel in their time on the snow.
Later, the children moved on to skiing Bald Mountain and Myers felt like he was “missing out,” he said. A patient—state Rep. Muffy Davis, a decorated adaptive skier from Ketchum whose district includes Blaine County—told Myers he should try adaptive skiing. Previously, Myers said, he thought people who skied the steep slopes of Baldy were “insane.”
“I thought, ‘Maybe this really is possible,’” he said.
Myers connected with Higher Ground. He started out skiing last season from the Magic Carpet beginners’ lift at Dollar, using poles with ski-like extensions on the bottom, in a method called “four-tracking.” He used custom ski boots and received instruction from Jeff Burley, Higher Ground’s director of adaptive sports, and other instructors. Myers progressed every weekend he skied, he said, and eventually was able to ski with his children on Baldy.
The experience changed his life, Myers said. “Tears of joy” flowed and nearly blinded his vision.
“It just opened up a whole new world to me,” he said. “It’s just invaluable.”
Myers said he has now skied every run on Baldy—including expert runs—except the areas with sizable moguls. He has skied more than 20 days this season and has learned to ski without an instructor. He and his family have taken ski trips to Pomerelle and Grand Targhee. On Baldy, sometimes his wife joins the group and helps Myers. When he looks at a trail map, instead of just seeing names and colors, it evokes memories and possibilities, he said.
“Because of Higher Ground, I now feel like I truly belong—not just in the lodge, but as a resident of Idaho,” he said.
After he started skiing, Myers said, his “legs came back”—he felt stronger physically and mentally.
Now, Myers recruits others to try adaptive skiing with Higher Ground. He shares his experiences and refers patients to the program, something that gives them a “pathway” to broaden their horizons, he said. Sometimes, he sees patients—some of them children—at one of the ski areas. Through adaptive skiing, parents get to share experiences with their children that they previously could not, he said.
For Myers, inclusion in activities that once seemed impossible is irreplaceable. Once, when he was at a park where a group was starting a game of kickball, the people assumed he could not participate because of his injury. He could have played, he said.
“Inclusion is the currency of self-worth,” he said. “Be it making the varsity soccer team or being invited to a party, everyone values a seat at the table and a chance to connect with their peers.”
Today, Myers is a strong advocate for Higher Ground, calling the association between the organization and St. Luke’s “a perfect relationship” in which “the goals and values are aligned so well.”
Kate Dobbie, Higher Ground executive director, said the organization—which has more than 300 participants in its various programs—is exploring expanding its programs to serve Myers’ patients.
Despite his injury and associated challenges, Myers said he has no regrets and feels that he “belongs”—in Idaho, on the ski mountain and in his broader community. He is considering trying adaptive cycling when warmer days arrive.
“I’m super happy with how things turned out,” he said.