By John Henderson

Eden, UTAH—A few days ago, I was feeling nervous about my upcoming ski lessons and then my wife reminded me why: It had been six years since I’ve skied, with everything that goes into it. For me, an adaptive skier, that means six years since I’ve bundled up in long underwear, fleece and gortex and stuffed myself into the bucket seat designed for skiers like me.

John Henderson and Jim Bradley in 2014

A video from 2016 shows me at Snow Basin on a bi-ski, making smooth turns all on my own. But that’s not what stands out in my memory. What stands out is the crash, which happened during my lesson at Powder Mountain, where I was rushed to the ski patrol yurt. I crashed so hard I cried. So hard I feared I had fractured C1 again and would have to return to the hospital and fight for my life all over, just like I did back in 2009 when a bus left me for dead.

Mental wounds are curious.

Just when I think I’ve healed and come to terms with the battles in my past, something pops up and bulldozes me backward. The feeling of fear quickens my heart rate. Dread sets in and makes it hard to breathe. To everyone around me, the threat is invisible, yet it rages and batters my insides with such force that I feel like I’m going to die, all over again.

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen as often anymore. But a few days ago, as I began to think about skiing and my upcoming lessons, I started to feel that familiar sense of unease.

I know the best way to overcome fear is to confront it. It’s why soon after the accident that left me paralyzed and riddled with internal plates, rods and screws, along with scarred lungs and a permanently damaged left side, I made it my mission to get back to doing the things I loved.

When I called Ogden Valley Adaptive Sports (OVAS) for the first time to inquire about lessons back in 2011, the program coordinator, Karen Bradley, picked up the phone. She took the time to address my concerns and to learn more about me and my abilities.

Soon thereafter, when I met her and her husband, Jim, their easy-going nature and attention to my well-being instantly elevated them to what felt like family. In the winters that followed, Karen arranged every lesson I took. She always made sure to match me with the instructor best suited to my personality and needs. A couple of those instructors became friends. But all of them, no matter whether I saw them on or off the mountain, became to me like guardians.

Three days before my lesson, I called Karen. She had been with me the day I skied the whole mountain. She had also been with me that day when I crashed. She had helped keep me calm both days. When she answered, I explained my predicament. “I don’t like to cancel things, Karen, but I need to cancel my lessons,” I told her. “I’m just not ready.”

Her familiar, kind voice filled my ear.

“Ok, John,” she said in a matter-of-fact way. “We can do that.”

But what she said next surprised me. What she said next revealed how well she saw through my facade.

She pushed back. “How about we cancel Tuesday but keep Thursday?” she said.

It was gentle and soft, yet it was a definite nudge. I had called to cancel all my lessons because I didn’t feel ready, and I didn’t want to crash again. Yet her proposition made me pause.

“Ok,” I said. “Let’s keep Thursday.”

I’m forever grateful for Ogden Valley Adaptive Sports and for its spirit, best summed up by the slogan miles of smiles, which Jim and Karen and the staff embody, and which keeps me coming back.

(As told to Laurel Dudley)