ATHLETE OF THE WEEK | Tommy Michaels

“A spinal cord injury is like a reset button on your adulthood” #highfivesathlete Tommy Michaels

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My name is Tommy Michaels. I moved out west in 2010 to pursue the outdoor lifestyle and outdoor friendships that my hometown in Ohio seemed to be lacking. When I originally moved out to Colorado, I became passionate about backcountry snowboarding, rock climbing, and cycling. On August 18, 2017, I was cycling in Portland, OR on a flat dirt trail that took a blind turn around a tree. Little did I know that this blind turn would lead me down some stairs away from a narrow bridge that crossed a river. I braced myself for impact, but did not realize that the bike was about to throw me over the handlebars head-first into the opposing riverbank. When I heard a crack and felt the momentum of my body twisting me down this hill without feeling sensation, I knew something was wrong. I initially thought that I could have been stunned similar to when a fly is swatted out of the air, but quickly realized that something more was going on. Luckily I was cycling with a friend who heard the crash and 911 was called immediately. 

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After two cervical spinal surgeries and two days in the hospital, my right leg began to move, followed by my right toes. When I showed some doctors, they could not believe it and just stared wide-eyed right at me. There was hope. I was initially transported from the hospital in Portland to Cleveland, Ohio for rehabilitation. I chose Ohio to be closest to my direct family, but after realizing that this hospital was not a good fit for an injury of this type, my girlfriend from Truckee, CA connected with High-Fives and they helped facilitate my transfer from this hospital to Craig Hospital in Denver. Transferring from a Level-1 rehab hospital to another Level-1 rehab hospital is not easy, but Roy Tuscany was the person to make it happen. Using him as a contact person, within two days I was already on a flight to the number one spinal cord injury rehab hospital in the US. I then spent the next 3.5 months in inpatient and outpatient rehab. Though I still have mobility and sensation impairments, I firmly believe that I would not be where I am nor walking today if it were not for the High-Fives Foundation and their resources.

High-Fives initially helped me with facilitating an insurance-fighting transfer from one rehab facility to the next, but then immediately surrounded me with several athletes in the area who had suffered their own spinal cord injuries. The community and bond with these individuals at Craig Hospital made me realize that I was in the right hands.

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A spinal cord injury is like a reset button on your adulthood. You have never felt so violated, nor have been so watched and helped by so many different adults. Being spoon fed  and congratulated on using the restroom is not where I wanted to be when I was 25. High-Fives helps pick folks up in the most vulnerable state of their life during these injuries, whether it be through resources and connections, providing grants to help build folks up who were once enjoying various outdoor action sports, or just being of any sort of mental and physical support. Since my injury, High-Fives provided me with grants to pursue indoor rock climbing again, get into adaptive surfing and has taken me to High-Fives sponsored camps including the Winter Park Ski Camp this year. Most of all, High-Fives is my #1 support line on tough days because the foundation’s employees and athletes have gone through the exact same experience.

A donation to High-Fives is more than supporting folks through grants; this organization provides community, hope and happiness. 

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