Corey reaches high in Telluride

Corey reaches high in Telluride

April 28, 2021 Off By Hawkeye Johnson

Corey Lovato wrote a very inspiring story of his recovery in the essay portion of the GoHawkeye grant application. We were very impressed and helped raise $6,250 to finish his fundraising for an off-road handcycle. We thought it would be cool to get him back on snow for his first time since the snowboard accident which made him a quadriplegic fourteen years ago. Corey nervously agreed and traveled to Telluride for three days of instruction with the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program (TASP).

Corey Lovato. Courtesy photo.

Corey was outfitted in a sit down bi-ski with hand held outriggers and mitts and progressed rapidly with the expert instruction he received. I was lucky to drop in each day and witness his rapid improvement. It was if he improved overnight while sleeping. Daily, he expressed joy at being able to experience this winter environment again and to make his own way down the mountain. It was a joy for me to be a part of it.

On the final day, GoHawkeye organized a ski around the mountain event with Corey which was well attended by board members, supporters and Bria Light, a reporter for the Telluride Daily Planet. Her front page story appears below. By the end of the day, Corey had reached to top of Telluride Resort and skied down the See Forever trail toward the setting sun and new possibilities.

Corey with Telluride Adaptive Sports guides and the Mono Posse at the top of Telluride Resort. Courtesy photo.

I encourage you to read Corey’s essay. He is a remarkable and pleasant man with the drive, grit, and determination that not only got him through his recovery, but also through law school and his ongoing commitment to helping others. He now works as an advocate lawyer for disabilities in Phoenix, Arizona.

Adaptive athlete rides again

Go Hawkeye Foundation provides ‘Rocky Mountain experience’

By Bria Light, Staff Reporter – Mar 12, 2021

On Wednesday morning, Corey Lovato donned his ski gear and headed for the hill. Though he’d carved countless turns on a snowboard in his life, this was no ordinary morning for the Loveland native and Phoenix resident. In fact, it was his first day back on the slopes in nearly 14 years, since St. Patrick’s Day in 2007.

Then 19, Lovato was snowboarding when he decided to go big on a jump. Catching air, however, he realized he’d miscalculated the terrain and was launching higher into the clear, blue sky than he’d anticipated. Falling back towards the hard packed snow from about 40 feet up, the college student landed hard, sliding to a stop on his back. He couldn’t move.

Lovato soon learned that he’d broken his neck, sustaining a severe spinal cord injury that rendered him quadriplegic.

For the active young college student, who’d always been an athlete, the swift change of fate was devastating, plunging Lovato into a state of grief and depression as he contemplated his new future, so different from the one he’d always imagined. But then, still rehabilitating in the hospital, Lovato had a stunning realization: his athleticism was still within him, a shovel he could use to dig himself out of the trench. Tapping into his athlete’s dogged determination to simply show up to the task of trying, day after day, to attain a goal, Lovato began the task of rebuilding his life. He relearned how to perform tasks like eating, shaving and writing, thanks to the motor ability he retained in his arms along with months of therapy. 

Upon returning to college, he studied hard, graduated and moved to California where he completed a law degree. Now a lawyer in Phoenix, Lovato works at a legal aid and advocacy nonprofit that assists Arizonans with disabilities. 

And along the way, he never lost his athletic prowess, mental or physical. Last year, he applied for a grant through the GoHawkeye Foundation, a Telluride nonprofit dedicated to supporting adaptive individuals with “financial aid, outdoor experiences and filmmaking meant to inspire people of all abilities,” according to the organization’s mission. Founded by longtime ski instructor Hawkeye Johnson, the organization has helped over 60 adaptive athletes acquire equipment and access outdoor opportunities since its inception in 2014.

Thanks to the GoHawkeye grant, Lovato will receive a handcycle this summer, a full-suspension three-wheeled bicycle designed for off-road use. Occasionally, GoHawkeye also coordinates a “Rocky Mountain experience” for an athlete, bringing them to Telluride for an outdoor opportunity. In Lovato’s case, this meant helping the formerly avid snowboarder get another shot at carving his way down snow-covered slopes.

For three days from Wednesday to Friday, that’s exactly what Lovato did, with the assistance of Telluride Adaptive Sports Program volunteers and a bi-ski, a fiberglass chair mounted on top of two skis and aided by two handheld “outriggers,” or poles with small ski tips.

“It’s surreal,” Lovato said Friday morning before heading out to the slopes for his final day. “It’s hard to describe it in words. I used to do this all the time and now it’s been 14 years since I’ve been on a mountain.”

Lovato relished the feeling of once more pulling smooth turns on snow, feeling a satisfying improvement each day. He reveled in the speed of the sport, the boost of adrenaline triggered by flying down a slope, the perception of speed enhanced even further by his closer proximity to the slope from the sit-ski. He even noticed the long-forgotten quirky details of ski resort culture.

“On the lift, we passed the tree covered in Mardi Gras beads,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah! I forgot about these things. Every lift has a tree like that!’”

Johnson, the founder of GoHawkeye, says a key part of the nonprofit’s mission is to create greater awareness of the kinds of experiences available to people of all abilities. Especially for those who have recently suffered a life-changing injury, it can feel like former passions or the ability to pursue many opportunities are now impossible, and showcasing adaptive athletes and their achievements can offer an example to the contrary. Offering a more accurate depiction of who an adaptive athlete is — in Lovato’s case, an advocate, a lawyer, an athlete, and an outdoor aficionado — is another benefit of increasing awareness to the general public. 

In his essay for the GoHawkeye grant, Lovato described how people began to treat him differently after his injury, seeing him “as the guy in the wheelchair,” despite the fact that he himself still felt like the same athletic, confident person he’d always been.

Johnson noted that one thing not often considered is the depression that can strike someone dealing with a life change of such magnitude. Outdoor experiences and access to nature and adventure are often powerful healing forces, something he has been witness to many times in his decades as an adaptive ski instructor.

“Adaptive sports aren’t just life changing,” Johnson said. “They are life saving. They really save people’s lives.”