Injured skier finds resolve returns to slopes
The first run is usually an easy descent down the mountain to get warmed up for a full day on the slopes.
Such was not the case for Mario Solis when he set out for a day at Kirkwood Mountain Resort in the spring of 1998.
On his initial run, the 27-year-old went over a berm, hit a roller jump and went backwards into the facing berm, sustaining a compression fracture to his spine. Solis’ accident left his legs partially paralyzed.
“I thought I was dying,” Solis said. “When I got hurt I knew I was paralyzed because I couldn’t feel my body from the waist down.”
Solis was flown to Washoe Medical Center, where he was told the severity of his injury.
“My doctor told me that trying to save my life was like trying to stop a tidal wave with my hand,” Solis said. “If I didn’t have surgery right then I wasn’t going to make it.”
In the time following the injury, Solis struggled through bouts of depression and trying to come to grips with what had happened to him. His wife left him and he feared he would never be able to lead the life he had before.
“I was left alone with a couple of good friends who stuck by me,” Solis said.
In the depths of his pain and confusion, Solis met Kevin Cooper, manager of Cutting Edge Sports. Cooper had sustained a serious spinal injury in a car accident in 1986. Cooper made a successful recovery, and was able to return to his job as a Coast Guard rescue diver. Cooper recalls the emotional pain that Solis had at the time they met.
“He was pretty much a basket case,” Cooper said. He was believing what he was told, and the medical industry has to tell you that so that you don’t get false hope.”
Cooper and Solis quickly became friends.
Solis had found someone who had faced similar adversity with a successful result. Cooper became a key source of strength for him.
“Coop approached me and shared with me some of his experiences and his battle for life,” Solis said. “We cried for two hours. We laid into each other. I don’t think I’d be here today without his inspiration.”
Solis’ attitude on life changed dramatically for the better. He began to explore new ways to get the fullest out of life.
“Coop inspired me to charge it and beat it,” Solis said. “I found out there are a lot of opportunities on life.”
Physical therapist Jim Gallanty noticed that Solis worked in physical therapy with new-found resolve.
“The clutch in his car went out and with barely enough leg strength he rode his bike here,” Gallanty said. “He would ride up to the building and grab the doorjamb to get off the bike. I don’t think I have ever met someone with so much determination.”
Not only was Solis making physical strides, he was feeling better mentally.
“I never saw him at the point where he was sitting around feeling sorry for himself,” Gallanty said. “He’s just as likely to come in here and ask you about how you are doing than to come in and complain about how his wheelchair broke and he doesn’t have transportation.”
Solis found his next calling when a friend, searching on the Internet, found a ski adapted for persons confined to wheelchairs. The disabled person’s sit-ski has a bucket seat mounted on a motorcycle frame with a shock absorber. It is complete with a lever that raises the seat high enough to get on the chairlift.
Solis controls himself on the sit-ski with the aid of outrigger skis on poles and by shifting his weight with the limited motion in his lower body.
With the aid of the new equipment, Solis threw himself back into skiing despite the risk of reinjury.
“He was kind of pushing things a bit,” Gallanty said. “I think more than once we have had the reaction of, ‘Oh, Mario,’ and shaking our heads.”
For Solis, getting back on skis was not a matter of choice.
“After my accident, I had to get back on skis, skiing just as hard as I did before,” Solis said. “I do not let something that hurt me stop me. Skiing is the only sport when I don’t feel disabled.”
Before Solis could make a season out of his skiing, he had to confront the same slope where he was so badly injured.
“That was the first run of the season,” Solis said. “I had to get over my accident. I used to have nightmares of my accident, so the first day of Kirkwood’s opening I went straight to Chair 5. Since then I haven’t had any bad dreams.”
Solis has not only overcome his fear of skiing, he is excelling at the sport again.
“The first time we went up on the tram, I was like we’ll go play around for a couple of hours, but he rules,” his friend Lee Collins said. “I was real impressed.”
Solis plans to enter sit-ski competitions but financial factors limit the quality of his equipment.
Solis said he’s just happy to be bobbing down expert runs beside people with two working legs.
“I almost never get frustrated,” Solis said. “I love it way too much to get frustrated. I am not one to let anything stop me.”