Three East Coast #HighFivesAthletes receive grant funding in June from the High Fives Foundation

George Gonzalez, Ryan McLaren and Michael Schwarz receive board-approved Empowerment Grants totaling $12,713.54! Learn more about each athlete below. Through June 2017, the High Fives Foundation has disbursed $314,619.48 in board-approved grants to 64 athletes in 16 states.

Written and created by Program Services Manager, Steve Wallace

The High Fives Foundation is awarding Palm City, Fla. resident George Gonzalez a board-approved Empowerment Grant totaling $7,153.54 to aid in his recovery from a life-altering injury.

Gonzalez was snowboarding with his step-father in Colorado when he suffered his accident. While descending a blue run, a group of small kids shot out of the trees and surprised him. In order to avoid them, Gonzalez tried to slow down using his heel edge, but when he did, he caught his toe edge and flipped over, landing on his head. The impact led to a C6/7 burst fracture, causing paralysis from the neck down.

Gonzalez has trained tirelessly at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. following his injury.


Along with spending time in therapies, he has found that some of the best therapy has stemmed from his involvement in the spinal cord injury community.

“High Fives means a lot to me because it allows me to connect with other like-minded people with adventurous goals,” said Gonzalez. “Being able to see others with an SCI getting back to the sports they love has given me a boost because I know each day I am one step closer to being the athlete I once was.”

The June grant awarded to Gonzalez will be used to remodel his bathroom in order to accommodate his wheelchair, and also to pursue neuro-spacial alignment – a recovery technique that he has found to be extremely effective. Not having to stress about the costs associated with these items will allow Gonzalez to focus on getting back to the sports he loves.

Processed with VSCO with 5 preset

The High Fives Foundation is awarding Ryan McLaren an Empowerment Grant of $5,160 to be used toward personal training sessions at a specialized Boston-area rehabilitation facility, adaptive rowing sessions, and acupuncture.

Despite amazing snow conditions at Mad River Glen Vermont, the mountain was not forgiving. While skiing on the on the bluebird St. Patrick’s Day, Ryan suffered a burst fracture of the L1 vertebrae and an incomplete spinal cord injury while landing a small drop during a morning run. He was airlifted to University of Vermont Medical Center where he underwent surgery to fuse his T12 to L2 and reduce the compression on his spinal cord.

Following the surgery, Ryan experienced paralysis below the knees, and after 4 days in the ICU and 2 days as an inpatient, he was transported to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, MA to undergo 8 weeks of acute rehabilitation and begin his path towards recovery.

The June board-approved Empowerment Grant for $5,160 will provide McLaren with specialized personal training at Journey Forward in Canton, Mass., along with adaptive rowing sessions with Exercise for Persons with Disabilities. In addition to the personal training and rowing lessons, McLaren will receive acupuncture from Desneiges Acupuncture and Allergy Treatment, as well as temporary help to assist with getting in and out of his house.

“Journey Forward is less clinical than a traditional PT setting,” said McLaren. “The program is designed to look and feel like a typical gym and stimulates recovery while providing a great workout. I have a similar experience to my workouts pre-injury, and that familiarity makes it super positive for me”

The High Fives Foundation is awarding 30-year-old Michael Schwarz an Empowerment Grant of $400 to be used toward recreational therapy following a traumatic brain injury.

In March 2009, during his Senior year at the University of Vermont, Schwarz of Chester, Vt. suffered a traumatic brain injury while competing in a freestyle snowboarding competition. The injury left Schwarz in a medically induced coma, and when he awoke at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, he was tasked with relearning everyday activities like walking and talking.


High Fives Foundation was introduced to Schwarz in 2012 and has provided funding for Bioness L300 foot drop units, a Hippocampe off road wheelchair, along with several other treatments that have been instrumental in his recovery.

The June grant awarded to Schwarz will cover 10 sessions of assisted horseback riding at Reinbow Riding Center. Schwarz and his family have repeatedly stressed the importance of recreational therapy. These riding sessions will allow him to get out of traditional therapy setting and out recovering in the fresh Vermont air.

“I love how exhilarating horseback riding is,” said Schwarz. “I have a lot of fun doing activities in the ring and riding on the beautiful Vermont trails. I am independent and it reduces my reliance on others and I love bonding with the horse.”

Donate to an Athlete Today

Leave a Comment