No board, no money, don’t live close to a decent mountain—think you’ve got it rough, rider? The Original Gimps didn’t start snowboarding until after they were left blind, paralyzed, and amputated. Things we take for granted moment to moment—being able to see the run, moving our legs—these are the things the Original Gimps deal with everyday. To get what they want out of life, such as a High Cascades Snowboard Camp session on Mt. Hood, there aren’t many problems they can’t work around.
David Hunter, 35, is a snowboarder, ice skater, mountaineer, and white-water rafter. He teaches computers, is working to get his Master’s in counseling, and because of an optic nerve disease, he’s been blind since the age of twelve.
At that, most people would curl up and call it a life. But after dealing with his condition for more than twenty years, Hunter decided he wanted to snowboard, and there wasn’t a reason why not. “I like a challenge. It’s in the blood,” he says. “I’m adventurous, not crazy. Once I get to know a mountain, I’ll be cruising.”
Cruise he does—switch. Down boardercross courses, in the pipe and park. Though he lives in Lebannon, Tennessee, Hunter dreams of moving back west to rack up more than twenty days on his yearly total. With camp guide Niki Glynos, he dances around the hill, holding both her hands, then just one. With a giant hula hoop he rides at minimal tether. Give him an open face and he’s freeriding. Kids cheer his mailbox jib and Glynos raves, “He’s taught me so much.”
At the age of seventeen, Pam Eberly’s VW bug collided with a dump truck. Though months were put into saving her leg, it was amputated below the knee on her eighteenth birthday.
Little did Eberly know then how much life lay ahead. Now 50, she’s a mother, a chiropractor’s assistant, massage therapist, and office manager of her husband’s Eberly Surf Designs. Much to her kids’ consternation she learned to ride in Sierra At Tahoe and is now on her ninth season. Eberly rides across California with her family and even taught her husband. This is her second summer at Original Gimp Camp, where she rides the pipe, slides rails, and has fun in the sun with the other adaptive riders she says are so hard to hook with.
Though you wouldn’t know by looking, beneath Eberly’s regular boot and pant leg is a state-of-the art carbon fiber prosthesis that gives her a good deal of regular mobility, but such a miraculous device can cost twelve to fifteen grand a pop. “They break. They crack and wear out,” Eberly says. “Basically I pay the company a hundred bucks a month for the rest of my life and get one whenever I need to.” Enthusiastic, personable—Eberly is as much Gimp den mother as camper. “All I ever did was talk about snowboarding,” she laughs, “It makes me feel like a kid again.”
The director, coach, counselor, and instigator of the Original Gimp Camp is 25-year-old Lucas Grossi, whose sweatshirt—”Gimpin’ Ain’t Easy” inspires more than offends. In a fateful combo of Hunter and Eberly’s stories, Grossi became a below-the-knee amputee in a car accident at age twelve. A Big Mountain, Montana ski racer whose brothers all rode, Grossi simply says snowboarding is “Pretty much all I ever wanted to do. It wasn’t that hard to make it happen.” He’s been riding since age sixteen, putting in up to a hundred days a year as a product tester for high-activity prosthetic companies and as USASA’s adaptive snowboard rep.
He too, rides pipe and park, but mostly loves freeriding powder turns. Grossi operates in nine different directions simultaneously teaching campers on the hill, shuttling them to the base of the lift, and trying to rig paraplegic Kevin McHugh’s busted “sit n’ jib.” In his second year of “Gimps On The Glacier,” Grossi brought in Glynos and hopes to open the camp to all disabled riders.
Original Gimps can thank Steve Van Doren for donating the Vans house and arranging for a snowmobile to tow McHugh. They enjoy a week-long stay for arounnd a grand—below what most campers pay, though any day riding can figure out to more than three times the expense to those with special needs.
For Grossi, a proper Gimpsman lifestyle is both message and mission. Some complain about his term for what they do, but Grossi suggests they relax, “It’s unique, it’s the summer, this is experimental adaptive snowboarding. The focus is on freestyle and having fun.” Gimping simply ain’t easy, it’s true, they just push the boundaries of the sport from a different direction. “Getting together,” Grossi says, “That’s when we learn the most. A bunch of us together, talking shop and snowboarding—that’s as instructive as it gets.” For all of us.
Go Gimp at www.original-gimp.com..