Friday, May 14, 2021
‘Inclusion is the Currency of Self-Worth’
After experiencing success with adaptive skiing, Myers is considering trying Higher Ground’s adaptive cycling program.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021


Dr. Jon Myers felt conflicted as he sat alone in the ski lodge at Big Sky, Mont., during a family reunion.

He was happy that his wife Michelle, his 10-year-old daughter, 7-year-old son and other family members were having fun skiing outside.

“But part of me says, ‘This sucks,’ ” he told himself, staring at his partially paralyzed left leg.

Jeff Burley and Dr. Jon Myers took part in Higher Ground’s recent Annual Supper Club fundraiser at The Argyros.

Myers, medical director of rehabilitation services for St. Luke’s Magic Valley, resolved then and there that he would do whatever it took to join them on their next ski vacation.

His chance came when one of his patients—Sun Valley’s Paralympic medalist Muffy Davis—suggested  he try adaptive skiing through Higher Ground, which offers recreational therapy to those with disabilities. Davis’s husband Jeff Burley, director of adaptive sports for Higher Ground, took Myers to the beginner’s slopes at Sun Valley’s Dollar Mountain’s Magic Carpet and outfitted him with outriggers—poles with foot-long skis on the bottom that help him balance.

Before the season was out, Myers had advanced from Dollar Mountain to Bald Mountain where he had the opportunity to ski with his kids.

“There are moments in your life that flash before your eyes. Riding the lift with my kids was the biggest thrill I’ve ever had,” he recounted. “We rode the chairlift past the cutout of Elvis in the cave and I said, ‘You guys never told me about that.’ And moments later my daughter and son were carving in front of me, looking over their shoulders with huge smiles on their face because ‘Daddy’s doing this with us.’ I just got huge tears in my eyes.”

ESPN Analyst and former New Orleans and Indianapolis NFL Coach Jim Mora, who now owns a home in Sun Valley, shows off an adaptive ski at the event, which he emceed.

Myers once skied 240 vertical feet at a ski area in Iowa but thought he’d never ski again after suffering a C-5 and C-6 spinal injury as a passenger in a rollover car accident when he was 22. He worked to regain the use of his hands and legs but his left leg remains partially paralyzed leaving him with a limp.

“If I close my eyes, I can’t tell where my big toe so I’m always wanting to look at my feet,” he said.

Given his penchant for science and helping people, his plan had been to go into family medicine. But, after his accident, he pivoted to rehabilitation to treat spasticity, spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy and other movement disorders.

A cross-country runner in college, he was elated when Burley said he had plenty of potential.

Lesley Andrus and Page Klune were among those taking part in the in-person fundraiser, which was limited to 50 people because of COVID protocols.

“Jeff watched me and said, ‘We could do this and that,’ ” Myers said. “He took me to Surefoot to get custom-made boots to address my weak leg. Then we spent three weeks on Dollar doing drills, such as sideslips on steep terrain. He also taught me how to plant my outriggers to dictate the radius of my turns. After three weeks we went to Baldy.”

Since, Myers and his family have skied Soldier Mountain twice, along with Pomerelle and Grand Targhee. But Baldy remains their favorite.

Myers has spent many hours poring over the Sun Valley trail map charting where his kids have skied and dreaming about which runs he wanted to try.

“This year I skied every groomed run n Baldy and some black diamond runs like Upper Blackrock off Warm Springs. I looked at it and said, ‘I think I can do that.’ And I did.”

The hardest part is getting his boots on.

“Jeff always calculates, ‘We want to ski at 10 so let’s show up at the Lodge at 9,” Myers quipped.

Given the difference skiing has made in his life, Myers is referring patients to Higher Ground. And he revels in seeing his patients, who include students from the Idaho State School for the Deaf and Blind, out on the slopes.

“As someone who has lived with a spinal cord injury for just over 20 years, I had grown accustomed to the limitations my disability imposed upon me. 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.  We are social creatures by nature and when excluded--either by accident or design--we hurt.  Exclusion erodes self-confidence and breeds sorrow.  Perhaps this is why Higher Ground's value to its participants and their loved ones transcends the mere activities that constitute its various programs.”

Burley is excited about the opportunity to expand Higher Ground’s programs to those accessing St. Luke’s services in Twin Falls. He’s already talking about conducting an adaptive cycling demonstration on the Canyon Rim trail there.

“Jon can prescribe all the right medications and therapies. But, if he’s trying to move his patients forward, they’ve got to look at ways they can go from the back seat out into the world,” he said. “Programs like ours show people they have a place in society, that they can do more.”

Myers is just happy he’s gone from watching as everyone else goes skiing to joining in.

“Now I feel whole,” he said. “Adaptive skiing has been empowering. It’s so important to feel you can stand on your own, to feel that you’re capable not different. Something like this expands your boundaries, gives you freedom. It makes you feel like there’s nothing you can’t do.”


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