From Death to Life & from a wheelchair to the slopes

From Death to Life
From a Wheelchair to the Slopes

In 1977 through a school class trip started skiing. A skier was born. In 1979 I had the best ski equipment a working fifteen year old could afford, and I was bumming a ride with anyone who was going skiing. The 1980/81 season was a glimpse of the future for me. Some of my friends where driving and it was easier to get to a ski mountain. I was skiing every trail Hunter had to offer, and doing it well. Skiing Vermont was the next step. I never dreamed it would take sixteen years to get there. Some one showed me a trail map of Sugarbush. The picture on the cover burned in my mind. Snow covered trees that look like God poured sugar over a mountain. I studied it, and dreamed of the day I would ski it. I could not wait until I got my drivers license so I could be free to go skiing when I wanted to. In May of 1981 I turned seventeen and started to drive I was free at last. Now when the ski season started, I could jump in my car and go.

One weekend in July of 81 I was partying heavily with my friends at the Jersey shore. Lots of beer and drugs, a typical weekend for me. I decided to take a swim in the ocean to sober up before driving my friends home. I swam out a little way, then I picked up a wave to ride it back in to shore. My sense dulled, stoned mind did not grasp the furry of the beast I was riding, until it was too late. The wave slammed me down head-first onto the beach. With a loud POP, a flash of light, and the sensation of an electric shock, I was paralyzed. I broke my neck. At first I was pretty bummed out, but I did see some people with similar injures leading normal lives. I finished up school and started working as a draftsman. I had a paycheck and a girlfriend, life Did not seem that bad in a wheelchair. But the winter time was salt in an old wound. My friends would go skiing with out me, it seemed so hard to get around in the snow, I just hated the winter. I focused on the things I could do and tried not to get depressed about the things I could not do. I wound up back in an empty life of partying with my friends and doing drugs by my self. My friend Phil an old ski buddy of mine told me about a life change experience he had, and he believed I would walk again if I would turn my heart toward God. At first I thought he was nuts, but I could see that he was a changed man for the better. Then things started to happen in my life, and others in my life, cousens and friends, had been touched by God.

In September of 1984 I accepted Jesus to be my personal savior by simply praying something like this, "Lord Jesus, my life is a mess, I believe you died for my sin, and I believe you where raised from the dead. Please come into my life and help me fix this mess, do for me what you did for Phil, Amen". I meant it, I wanted God to help me in my life. Well, things started to happen and I knew the prayer worked. Less then a year later some one prayed for me to be healed, and I took steps for the first time in four years. The doctors had told me that there was no hope, and that I would never walk and never have children. After an examination by my therapist, she told me she believed it was a miracle. I knew that but others in my family needed to hear it from a professional. I learned that, through faith, nothing is impossible. In the years to come I studied the bible to learn more about God and faith. I had some bad times, I even turned away from my faith. But God never left me. I met my beautiful wife Adrienne in the summer of 87 we married in 90. In 93 with our first baby on the way, we purchased a home. The American dream was on it's way.

One day at work I was talking with a buddy and skiing came up. I told him is was a sour spot for me because I miss it. He told me there was equipment available that would get me on the slop. I found an adaptive ski program at SkiWindham NY, and booked a lesson. On January 26 1995 I got on a chair lift for the first time in fourteen years. The equipment I use ski is called a mono-ski with outriggers as poles. The mono-ski is a seated frame with a shock absorber mounted to a single ski. On my first lesson sitting in this contraption, I asked my instructor, "Level with me, How far can I go in this". He just smiled and pointed up to the top of the mountain and said, " You can ski black diamonds if you choose to". That was all I needed to hear, I could take it as far I wanted to go. After about fourteen lessons I was a card carrying certified independent mono-skier. Now I could go skiing where I want when I want. I picked up where I left off in 1981. I joined the Trailside ski club mainly to get a discount on lift tickets, I had no idea of the lodge in Vermont. I now have three beautiful daughters. Weekend ski trips with the family is a bit costly so I ski mostly day trips. April 19, 1997, sixteen years later, I skied Sugarbush. I love the mountain, it was all I expected it to be, and it is now an annual trip for my buddy and I. Now I have a new dream, UTAH.

The sport of mono skiing has given me a feeling of freedom one can never know by sitting in a wheelchair. It is very liberating and confidence building, I know God had used this to bring me to another level of faith. I started this web site:, in which I promote mono-skiing and other adaptive sports that physically challenged people can take part in and even compete. The web site has been a huge success and several other physically challenged skiers have joined Trailside as a result, and I made some new friends. I received e-mail from people all over the world that have been inspired to get back on the slopes after visiting my web site. The bible says in Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart". It is my hearts desire to ski, and with raising a family and being the sole provider for my wife and three children, skiing would seem to be an expensive, unattainable luxury. But thanks be to God, The Lord that I serve has provided two season tickets for me, and the ability to work four ten hour days so I can ski one day midweek. I gave a motivational talk where I work at Lucent Technologies through which a man decided to book his physically challenged son in a mono-ski lesson. Another skied is born. My goal is to help people, get over, past, or around, any binding limitation, be it mental or physical, even fear. By showing them anything is possible if they try, and adapt, to make it happen. And absolutely nothing is impossible through faith in God. Problems in life are either going to make you weaker or make you stronger. The result be it weak or strong is our choice. God said in Deuteronomy 30:19, "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live". In John 10:10 Jesus said," I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly". He said "might have it" because it is our choice. I choose life. I choose to have abundant life for me and my family, and to ski right up into the 70+ club and beyond.

By Tom Cannalonga

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