Within months of Susannah Wright’s diagnosis, all the outdoor activities she once enjoyed seemed out of reach. She could no longer train for marathons or care for her family's horse ranch. Then she tried snowboarding, where she learned how to do things on a board that she couldn't do with her two feet on the ground.
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) five years ago at age 35, I thought my physically active lifestyle was over. Within months of my diagnosis, all the outdoor activities I once enjoyed seemed out of reach. Injuries from spastic muscles, tripping and falling had ended my marathon training. Fatigue and dizzy spells made caring for my family’s horse ranch exhausting. I had lost the ability to do the things I loved, and I didn’t know how to find new activities that fit better with my MS.
Then in 2005, a scholarship from the National MS Society allowed me to attend an adaptive ski and snowboard camp in Breckenridge through Adventures Within, a program that engages people with MS in outdoor activities. I saw a 60-year-old woman who has been in a wheelchair for 25 years shred up the slopes all day in a bi-ski, and then burst into tears when she told us how good it felt to take a “real fall” again. A 40-year-old woman who had struggled with skiing for a decade learned about simple boot lifts and techniques to make her turns easier, and the huge grin on her face told me she had also learned how to love skiing once again. Me? I learned how to snowboard! Thanks to three days of private lessons from a specially trained adaptive snowboard instructor, I went from cruising the green beginner runs to carving the blue intermediate runs and beyond.
Just about anyone with MS can learn to ski or snowboard with the help of adaptive equipment and good instruction.
Now I’m totally hooked on snowboarding; it’s become my physical, occupational, and emotional therapy, an excuse I use to get in more than 30 days of riding a year. Recently I returned to Breckenridge, where I had learned to ride only three years before, and this time I shredded the double black diamond, expert-only runs in Imperial Bowl. For some reason, I can do things on a snowboard that I can’t do when my two feet are planted on the ground. I may trip and fall as I walk from the parking lot to the chair lift, but when I’m riding down the mountain on a snowboard, my legs and brain feel connected, and my turns are actually graceful.
Just about anyone with MS can learn to ski or snowboard with the help of adaptive equipment and good instruction. Five years ago, I couldn’t imagine snowboarding with MS. Now as I fly down the slopes and my heart sings with joy, I can’t imagine MS without snowboarding.