Paralyzed athlete going strong despite challenges told by the Davis Clipper
BOUNTIFUL – A snowboarding trip up Big Cottonwood Canyon with friends four years ago changed Gates Hunsaker’s life forever.
“I was supposed to leave on an LDS mission the next day to Louisiana. I built a jump with my friends over a river,” said 23-year-old Hunsaker. “I hit the opposite bank and had to be flown out to the hospital.” Hunsaker would later learn he had a C5 spinal cord injury.
“I lost all body function from my neck down,” he said. “My arms work but I have no finger function.”
Hunsaker spent two weeks in the ICU. “My lungs kept failing but I finally made it to the rehab floor.” He spent two years in physical therapy at Neuroworx in South Jordan. “They were great.”
In spite of the devastating injury, Hunsaker pushed forward with life. “I went back to school and I’ll get my associates degree in the fall from Salt Lake Community College,” he said. “Then I will transfer to the U of U to get a bachelor’s in computer science.”
But school isn’t the only thing Hunsaker is pursuing. “I do handcycling,” he said. “It’s like a bike with three wheels and it’s almost like you are laying on the ground and pedaling with your hands. It’s taken a while to get good at it but I just did the Salt Lake Marathon.”
He is training for the St. George Marathon in the fall. In addition to the handcycling, he’s been involved with the TRAILS (Therapeutic Recreation & Independent Lifestyles) program at the University of Utah. “I’ve been skiing with them,” he said. “They’re amazing.”
He also plays wheelchair rugby and recently received a high-performance rugby wheelchair built for competition from the High Fives Foundation and the Challenged Athlete Foundation.
“Only quadriplegics are allowed to play,” said Hunsaker. “It’s because paraplegics have more upper body strength and function. But players can still deliver a powerful punch. It’s really fun.”
There is a league called the Utah Scorpions that practices in a recreation center in South Jordan. “With this chair I can get on the field and play,” he said.
Hunsaker said a big part of his active lifestyle is due to the programs available. “If it wasn’t for TRAILS and Neuroworx I don’t know what I’d be up to.”
He got married a year and a half ago. “The wheelchair really hasn’t slowed me down much,” he said. “It actually opened a lot of doors and gave me opportunities I might not have had. I was an athlete before (the accident) and I’m still an athlete just now in a chair.”