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Wind Crest Resident -- Despite Post-Polio Syndrome -- Takes Up Skiing Again

January 8, 2015

HIGHLANDS RANCH, CO (January 7, 2014) -- If you're looking for inspiration to get moving, try something adventurous, or conquer a goal, look no further than Wind Crest retirement community in Highlands Ranch, CO, where a resident – despite post-polio syndrome -- has made use of a personal fitness regimen to take up skiing again.

Dr. Severance Kelley will put any X Games freeskier's ambition to shame. At 80, the retired psychiatrist decided to defeat post-polio syndrome, which has left him nearly paralyzed from the waist down, and take up skiing again.

"I was a rather good skier up until about 1992," Dr. Kelley says. Two years earlier, he began to notice weakness in his right leg. Diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, a condition that affects polio survivors years after recovery from an initial acute attack of the polio virus, he continued to suffer weakness and eventually gave up his beloved winter sport.

According to the National Institutes of Health, "Some individuals experience only minor symptoms, while others develop visible muscle weakness and atrophy." Unfortunately, Dr. Kelley , who had polio as an infant, fell into the latter category and further developed weakness in both legs.

Though he has maintained upper body strength through frequent exercise, he uses a walker and electric wheelchair to get around. "I realized I needed to keep my upper body in good shape," he says. "I work out here [at Wind Crest's fitness center] two times a week with a trainer and once more on my own."

Little did he know he would find a way to ski again.

"Skiing was the only personal participation sport I enjoyed," he says. "Once you learn how to ski rather well, there's this sense of freedom—maybe it's controlled freedom—about shooting down a mountain and doing it in a beautiful setting."

After watching the Paralympic Games on TV last winter, Dr. Kelley discovered the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) at Winter Park, just over an hour from Wind Crest.

"I was quite impressed with the downhill skiing, and with my desire to want to try skiing, I called them and told them about my condition," he says.

Their response: "Sure, we can get you on the ski slope, and you can have a ball."

Dr. Kelley also discussed his plan with his personal fitness trainer at Wind Crest. "She had a friend who's an instructor [at NSCD], and she offered to take me with her."

So last March, the last week of ski season, he voyaged to Winter Park to whiz down the slope for the first time in 22 years.

A senior trainer fitted Dr. Kelley in a sit-ski, an apparatus that allowed him to sit with his back supported and legs extended on two skis. Two short hand-held poles had outrigger skis on the ends to help him steer. "You use the outrigger skis and lean your body left and right to steer," he says.

His instructor, on regular skis, was tied to Dr. Kelley's sit-ski to help with control, steering, and the learning curve.

"It was like starting all over again," Dr. Kelley says. "I still had to learn how to ski in an entirely different position and to make much more use of my arms and upper body to assist with turning."

But he had fun. "It was a very satisfying experience," he says. "It was challenging, and I got satisfaction out of handling the challenge. It was reminiscent of when I was first learning to ski. So I thought of myself as back in those days."

By the end of three hours, Dr. Kelley says, he controlled the sit-ski 50%–70% of the time. And he only intends to get better.

"I'll have more fun when I've practiced more," he says." My instructor suggests I have ten lessons before I go solo." And he intends to do so this winter. "This coming season my goal is to go more often and hopefully get to the point where I can use only one ski and not need a trainer."

He says the apparatus he used in March had two skis, while the sit-ski used in the Paralympic Games has only one.

Ski season runs November to March, and Dr. Kelley plans to spend most of it on the slopes.

While he's gotten many a compliment from his neighbors at Wind Crest, he humbly says they inspire him just as much. "When I see that people older than myself are still quite active, it gives me a lot of optimism," he says.

Dr. Kelley participates in various educational and social opportunities on the Wind Crest campus, from the Stevens Ministry to lifelong learning classes taught by fellow residents.