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From skis to wheels: Mike Vowels’ journey of healing, acceptance and finding his lost love

  • Written by by Connie Berg with Mike Vowels

PART ONE

The first time I saw Mike Vowels, I was driving by his beautiful property, in my car.

The word that immediately came to my mind was intense. The sight of him sitting in a wheelchair didn’t leave an impression on me, however the intensity with which he was able to care for his Duvall-area property from his wheelchair, did!

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Mike Vowels was a contributing pioneer of the sport of freestyle skiing before becoming paralyzed as a result of a skiing accident. Photo courtesy of Mike Vowels
The name, Mike the Maniac, came to mind. I had never really talked to Mike until I met him one day at Duvall Fitness.  I walked by him, as he was training, and saw that same wild intensity on his face that I had witnessed while driving by his property.  Yet, a second later, he softened as he spoke to his son Tag who was “overseeing” his dads workout.

Ultimately, Mike’s dedication to his son, his property and his physical transformation is what inspired me to write about him. Not knowing anything about Mike, I talked to the owner of Duvall Fitness, Jeff Wolf, and told him I thought I might like to write a story about Mike based on my observations.  Jeff thought Mike would be interested and introduced us. Shortly after that, I discovered there was a lot going on with Mike, both physically and emotionally.  I was witnessing an amazing journey of healing, self discovery and also a love story. It was not your typical love story. This was one between a fierce competitor, the sport he was obsessed with and the snow he once considered a friend and then his greatest enemy.

After meeting with Mike and being handed a large “booklet” of information, I struggled with writing his story.  I quickly realized that the words needed to come directly from him. His story was too personal to come from me. So, I simply asked Mike what this journey meant to him and this was his response…

“My story of coming to terms with a traumatic event in my life is one to include well-kept secrets, repressed emotions, guarded truths, personal suffering and psychological depression; the combo platter.

“It begins with a horrific skiing accident at age 29 in March of 1985. I struck a tree at high speed, bursting my vertebrae at the T-8 level; leaving me paralyzed below the sternum level.

“Reeling the tape backwards, I signed up for my first structured ski lessons at age 13 and at age 15 began teaching skiing at Alpental, continuing to do so for another 14 years. Within these timelines my developing athletic prowess led to my becoming one of the contributing pioneers of the sport of freestyle skiing and a champion competitor in the early 1970s.

“Following my accident, I turned my back to skiing altogether, and continued to do so for 28 years, never looking back. About three years ago, the well-buried trauma and its side affects caught up with me and depression set in. This profound wakeup call led me into psychotherapy and for the past two years I have been embarking on a journey of self exploration and discovery, finally coming face-to- face with the traumatic event that has influenced my life for nearly three decades.

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Mike works out regularly at Duvall Fitness. Photo by Connie Berg
“With the winter of 2012, came snowfalls in our area that boxed me in, limited my travels and restricted my mobility.  My daily challenges of being a wheelchair user become more exacerbated with snow and ice.  Driving into Seattle for work, through the challenge of a snowy and icy commute, coupled with traffic chaos, I make it within a mile of my workplace and am next forced to turn around and return home; to avoid getting stuck.  I am frustrated and I am vulnerable, because if I get stuck, I am unable to get out and walk.  My independence is seriously jeopardized and it challenges my ability to see my glass as being half full on this given day; my psyche is being worn down by my difficult snow blanketed environment.

“I’ve learned that writing (for me only) about my hardships and personal suffering is a therapeutic tool that serves me during my down periods; in response to my snowy dilemma, I wrote a poem, as follows:

Back in the day, the beautiful white snow was like the air beneath the wings of an acrobatic bird, allowing for flight and unbridled freedom.

Back in the day, the beautiful white snow was a place for me to glide and accelerate; transporting me through time and space, elevating my breathing, heart rate and life experience.

Back in the day, the beautiful white snow was my equalizer, shielding me from other life experiences deemed difficult or regretful.

Back in the day, the beautiful white snow was my great liberator.

Back in the day, the beautiful white snow was my friend.

“Today, the beautiful white snow can at times seem like a prison, but it is not; for there has always been a power bigger than me, inspiring me to fly and never remain grounded.  The beautiful white snow (a gifted tool) was and still is a beautiful white backdrop (a canvas) to my wonderful and colorful life that is an extraordinary painting in the making.

“Through this writing came an awakening, my epiphany, for the underlying thought and/or message was all about skiing. Through this heavily invested process of learning about myself, I have become open to the possibility of starting over again and returning to skiing, mending my broken heart by rekindling my lost love of sport.

“My journey comes full circle; I am scheduled to be in Sun Valley, Idaho to begin my ski lessons (mono/sit ski) on March 18.  Skiing friends from my past and a handful of friends (skiers themselves) from the Duvall area will be joining me in SV.  After five days of ski lessons, I will then be reunited on the hill for a day of skiing with about 30 of my good friends.  Through it all, age 57, I am learning that it is never too late in life to re-tool, re-think and become free from what is holding us back and preventing us from moving forward in life.”

Mike’s words are powerful, heartfelt and literally a call to action to anyone who has unresolved issues, or overwhelming fears.  One thing that resonated with me from my discussions with Mike is how grateful he is for all of the kindnesses he has received over the years.  There is a neighbor who plows snow from Mike’s driveway without being asked and another neighbor who routinely shows up unannounced and mows Mike’s lawn. In addition to these helpful neighbors, support and generosity of Jeff and Michelle Wolf, the owners of Duvall Fitness, has been unending.

And, last but not least, a gift from an amazing undisclosed angel who on Christmas Day left a very large, green gift, with wheels, in Mike’s driveway!  It was a John Deere Gator, equipped with hand controls.

This is part one of Mike’s story.  Part two will be written after his return to skiing in Sun Valley.

‘We own it!’ Residents of Duvall mobile home park purchase their community

  • Written by Valley View Staff

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Members of Duvall Riverside Village Cooperative celebrate the purchase of their community and the feeling of security that goes along with it. Ben Dryfoos-Guss photo
DUVALL–Homeowners in Depot Village, a 25-home manufactured housing community, took a big step toward securing their financial futures when they collectively bought their neighborhood as a resident corporation.

Stewart Davidson, a homeowner at Depot Village and president of its interim board, said the relief of controlling the community is hard to measure.

“It’s great to change from having Damocles’ Sword in the air that you know can fall, to having the security of knowing that when I pass, my wife can live here and not be worried about having a knock on the door with someone saying, ‘Here’s  your notice, you’re out in a year,’” Davidson said.

Many residents of Depot Village have lived there for decades. While they own their mobile homes, until now they didn’t own the land underneath them, making them vulnerable to rate increases and even eviction, especially if the land should change hands.

When the land came up for sale, the community came together to purchase it as a cooperative. The new Duvall Riverside Village Co-op purchased the community Dec. 27 for $1.18 million. As a result, the land will remain a cooperative belonging to its members in perpetuity, while affordable housing has been preserved in a prime location, within walking distance of Duvall’s Main Street and the Snoqualmie River.

Northwest Cooperative Development Center helped guide co-op members through the purchase. NWCDC is a certified technical assistance provider with ROC USA® Network, a national non-profit organization that works to help residents of for-sale mobile home parks form cooperatives and buy their communities.

Technical assistance will continue to be provided by NWCDC to the co-op for the length of the mortgage – a minimum of 10 years.

“Northwest CDC and ROC USA, they’re not just changing manufactured home communities, they’re changing the lives of people by making them more secure,” Davidson said.

Ben Dryfoos-Guss of Northwest CDC said the residents were honored that sellers Ray and Tove Burhen gave them the opportunity to purchase.

“We are extremely happy for the members of Duvall Riverside Village Co-op,” he said. “The entire community came together to make the sale happen when Ray and Tove needed it. Duvall Riverside Village residents are committed to this community and have a very strong vision that they are working to make their reality.”

This is the third manufactured home cooperative with which NWCDC is working in Washington. In this type of democratic cooperative, homeowners in the community each buy one low-cost share and become members of the co-op.  Each member household has one vote on matters of the community, elect a Board of Directors to act on day-to-day issues and vote as a membership on larger matters like the annual budget, by-laws and community rules.

Joel Erlitz, president of First Commercial Property Corp. of Seattle, helped broker the sale. He said the transaction was comparable or even shorter than a conventional sale and he would recommend other community owners to seriously consider selling to their homeowners.

“The business model that ROC USA has developed is superb,”  Erlitz said. “It was a different transaction in that you usually have to jump through a litany of different hoops in regard to banks and bank regulations. But that simply wasn’t the case here. I would certainly do it again, and I will.”

Financing for the project was provided by ROC USA Capital and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.

The Commission’s involvement helped overcome barriers that had twice before scuttled the homeowners’ efforts to buy their community. Partnering for the first time with ROC USA, the Commission brought an affordable interest rate to the newly founded cooperative.  The Commission previously helped to preserve four other manufactured-home communities in Washington through issuing bonds and other investment programs.

“We are committed to supporting manufactured-home communities, and ROC USA is a great partner,” said Karen Miller, chair of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. “We look forward to future collaborations here in Washington state.”

As for Duvall Riverside Village, ROC USA Capital Managing Director Michael Sloss pointed to the community’s prime location with unique access to Duvall’s Main Street and to recreation amenities on the Snoqualmie River, both of which are within walking distance of the co-op.

“ROC USA Capital was very pleased to partner with the homeowners at this cooperative and Washington State Housing Finance Commission to preserve 25 affordable homes in the heart of Duvall,”  Sloss said. “To deliver long-term affordable fixed-rate permanent financing to the co-op while promoting preservation of this walkable neighborhood represents tremendous community impact.”

HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR FAMILY IN A DISASTER?

  • Written by Valley View Staff

CERT class starts March 25

In the wake of a disaster, professional emergency responders may not be immediately available.

The Carnation-Duvall Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) seeks to fill the gap with a citizens’ training program designed to lessen the impact on family and neighbors until assistance arrives.

Community Emergency Response Teams are neighbors helping neighbors.  The Carnation-Duvall Citizen Corps once again will offer its spring CERT class in an effort to increase this community’s CERT volunteer base – better preparing ourselves, our families and our neighbors for the inevitable – the next flood, ice storm, wind storm, power outage or other form of community disaster.

The CERT skills taught by Carnation-Duvall Citizen Corps include how to organize for a disaster, how to assess a damaged structure before going in, how to put out a small fire before it gets big, how to perform a light search and rescue, how to triage and remove any victims found, how to lend life-saving first aid to life-threatening injuries, and how to cope with the stress of a disaster—and how to do it all safely.  Beyond that, every student learns valuable tips for family, school and work preparedness and great suggestions for getting prepared.

Throughout the class, students also share experiences, ideas and multiple Q&A opportunities with past CERT grads and Carnation-Duvall Citizen Corps Council leaders – other contributors to the local emergency preparedness arena.

The next CERT training session will start Monday, March 25th at the Duvall Fire Station and continue for the seven subsequent Monday evenings.

This CERT class will run from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and culminate on May 13th with the group’s “graduation exercise.”  This final exercise is an opportunity for each student, working with past CERT grads and Citizen Corps leaders, to put all their new skills and knowledge to test in a mock disaster drill.  It always proves to be an exciting end to every CERT class.

A donation of $35 is asked for the 20 hours of training.  Registration information can be obtained at www.carnationduvallcitizencorps.org.

Training is open to residents and local employees 18 years of age and up; those 16-17 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“We’ve trained over 400 CERT graduates as of this past fall,” said Helen Duffy, Carnation Duvall CERT coordinator. “We hope to have another 50 or more trained by the year’s end and encourage our neighbors to become a CERT.”

Go to the Carnation-Duvall Citizen Corps website for a registration form or call Helen Duffy at (425) 457-6322.

Those interested may also e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information on becoming a CERT volunteer.

Learn about the early Snoqualmie Valley livestock and meat industry

  • Written by Valley View Staff

On Monday, April 8th, at 7:30 p.m., the public is invited to join the Duvall Historical Society and Greg Giuliani for a presentation on early Snoqualmie Valley livestock and meat processing.

Mr. Giuliani’s family moved to the Snoqualmie Valley nearly 50 years ago, and has been part of the Duvall meat industry since 1972.

Listen as Greg shares his knowledge with us. The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Duvall Visitor and Centennial Center, located at 15619 Main Street (the old library) in Duvall.

Author/poet Quraysh Ali Lansana comes to Riverview

  • Written by Submitted by Michael Ward
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Author/poet Quraysh Ali Lansana led a workshop Feb. 5 for 8th grade students in Matt Stewart’s Tolt Middle School language arts class. Photo by Michael Ward
“If you have a command of language and an understanding of the written word, there is absolutely nothing you cannot do.”

These words hit home to 8th grade students on Tuesday morning, February 5, when acclaimed author, poet, artist and instructor Quraysh Ali Lansana led a workshop with students in Matt Stewart’s first period language arts class. The workshop served as one of several similar courses that Mr. Lansana led in sessions at both Tolt Middle School and the Riverview Learning Center the week of February 4-8.

Over the course of the hour, Lansana shared details on his background and cited famed poet Gwendolyn Brooks as one of his inspirations. Calling on one of Brooks’ most noted poems, We Real Cool, Lansana read the poem and then turned to seven students to come up and embody a specific line of the work. When the students needed assistance on how to interpret the line, the remaining class served as directors, instructing the students on how to stand, deliver the line, and inhabit the character alluded to in Ms. Brooks’ prose.

Reading from his latest book of poetry, Mystic Surf, Lansana led a conversation about irony and then moved into a longer poem, 71st and King Drive, which offered students a more tangible way with which to share in the creative process. Upon reciting the poem, Lansana engaged students in recognizing elements of alliteration, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia and simile, and then turned the tables around on them.

Under the poet’s direction, students were asked to craft a “Community Awareness Poem” which focused on their respective neighborhoods, identifying smells, sounds, likes and dislikes, and other sensory-related items from where they call home. The sessions made the students in Mr. Stewart’s class think outside the box in terms of more conventional writing and forced students to express their thoughts in new and more expansive ways.

The author of 16 different books, Lansana imparted upon his students that interpreting poetry, along with any form of art, is always left to the individual. Stressing that “there are no wrong answers…all comprehension is valid,” Mr. Stewart’s first-period language arts class and undoubtedly all students who worked with Quraysh Ali Lansana came away with a new perspective on the power of the written word.