Tony with mountain man bi-ski

It’s begun… sort of. After an exceptionally clingy indian summer (which, for those keeping meteorological score at home, will mean another 60° plus sunny week ahead; a very odd, shorts wearing start to December), a couple of diminutive, fast-moving storms managed to sneak in, drop a little snow and the lifts of Tahoe began firing up.

Now whether or not any of that white stuff will stick around through the coming week is anyone’s guess, but the mere whiff of it has my adrenaline bubbling. Couple that with the arrival of my new bi-ski, and the chemical agitation in my bloodstream is a whole lot easier to relate to.

You get me now, don’t you?

Rocky Mountain High

As I alluded to in my previous post, I recently received a grant from the High Fives Foundation to have the seat/bucket of my ski orthotically modified by Ride Designs in Aspen, and at the beginning of November I flew out there for a week to have this done.

Having dealt with chronic pressure sore issues for just about all of my disabled life, and the pursuit of products, theories and “experts” that could solve/address these issues, what I experienced/participated in at Ride was a miraculous life changer. A combination of technology, engineering, philosophy, experience and kindness (yes, this matters too, as it translates to listening and empathy), I realized this system could go beyond my ski and onto my everyday acoustic and electric chairs. A very exciting thought.

But perhaps my biggest “I need to wrap my head around this” moment (aside from the fact that sitting in my completed ski was now more comfortable than my everyday chair) came when I first saw what I would actually be sitting on/in: a seat shell made of molded pre-expanded polystyrene (EPS) (okay, it’s a proprietary, supersecret type of EPS, the production of which I was asked not to even film, but still, for the sake of description, it looks a lot like the stuff that goes into filling 1970s beanbag chairs or what makes up those cheap styrofoam ice chests).

Now in the past, and currently (until this trip, anyway), the conventional wisdom and attack to solving the pressure issues of my extremely bony prominences (I’ve got ischial tuberosities like samurai swords) has always been to do it with the softest, most forgiving, flexible material possible. And this seems intuitively correct. Tremendously so. And for the most part it is — and even somewhat effective. But “somewhat effective” is just that, somewhat, and not the bar I’m striving for.

And while the “supersecret” EPS is indeed flexible, it’s magic, if you will, is more a twofold combination of malleability and how that malleability allows the designer to shape/create a seat that both hugs the contours of the body while offloading pressure from higher pressure areas to other areas that can handle it.*

And this is where the expertise, experience and creativity of the designer comes to play, because as functional as this material is on its own, it’s only the foundation of what makes this seating system so unique; time, study, shaping and reshaping are necessary to build the most effective offloading environment for an individual’s own particular needs (and we know, boys and girls, just how extreme mine are!).

So, after the initial mold/impression of my butt was made, and the seat was shaped to the shell of the ski, I literally spent the majority of my time in Ride’s warehouse sitting in my ski in order to get an accurate assessment of how the seat was performing and where, if any, redness was occurring – not just on my problem areas, but the areas where the pressure was being offloaded to as well; a delicate dance of nuance, to be sure, especially given that I was tightly strapped in, which adds even more back and downward pressure to the mix.

By the end of the week, after this back-and-forth of getting in and out of the ski, checking my skin, tweaking the shape of the cushion (adding or subtracting foam as needed), I was at last sitting comfortably for 3 1/2 hours with next to no redness on my problem areas whatsoever (and this was without any pressure relief)!

Milagros

I used the word “miraculous” above and I want to come back to that. For those who know me, you know how much of my life is dictated by the condition of my bony ass i.e. how much time can I spend on it in my chair before I need to stay off of it for a protracted amount of time. There’s no mystery as to why the first thing anybody asks me when catching up is, “How’s your ass?” It’s a barometer by which my day to day activities can be determined. I don’t see it is good or bad anymore, simply the parameters by which I live.

At one point at Ride, while looking at my ski, it hit me very deeply just how game changing, next level s**t all of this was. Certainly my skiing experience was about to change – that was obvious – and not just for the simple fact I could stay on the mountain longer or that my performance level would now be unbounded (I can only imagine how cool this will be), but because of everything that led up to that moment – everything.

The “miraculous” was in the fact that I could ski at all, that I had friends and family who shared in my stoke and were behind me to make it happen, that this technology exists, and that somebody was creative, imaginative and skilled enough to apply it in an area that is so critical/important to my life, that a foundation of people — who didn’t know me personally but understood my passion — gave so generously, that people supported the foundation, and that I live, really live, to feel all of this so deeply, and am able to resonate with an eternal gratitude.

The snow has yet to truly fall in the Sierras, sure, and I’ve yet to make a single carve on my new ski, but as far as I’m concerned the celebration of miracles and wonders has begun!

High Fives Foundation Winter Empowerment introduction video for Tony Schmiesing from Tony Schmiesing on Vimeo.

pau.

*The material is also water resistant and performs exceptionally well in the cold. Hey, it’s nice to maintain a warm butt.

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