Mike Vowels continues his ‘journey of discovery’ - Goal is helping injured veterans

  • Written by Lisa Allen, Valley View Editor

vvmikeonskiCourtesy photo . Mike Vowels on the ski slopes of Sun Valley last spring."I have found there’s no expiration date on what you are capable of doing," Mike Vowels said recently over coffee at Duvall Starbucks.

One point he was making was, despite his own physical limitations, he has been able to live a full life and is continuing to challenge himself, along with developing plans to help others similarly afflicted.

But what really changed his focus and got him on a new path, he pointed out, was the fact that he had undergone a recent epiphany of sorts, starting with a bout of depression, which made him realize he could, and should, do more that he thought he could, or even wanted to do.

But first,  a little background.

For those who missed out on Connie Berg’s two-part story earlier this year on Mike’s life so far, it explained how he is known locally for creating a beautiful and "green" landscaped yard and home, all from a wheelchair that he has had to use since a skiing accident at age 29.

The two articles told of Mike’s trip to Sun Valley last spring, and with it a return (using adaptive equipment) to skiing, a sport he once loved and dominated as a freestyle skier but had completely turned his back on after the accident.

Now 58, he is certain he will accomplish the next goals he has set for himself.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t nervous.

"Right now, I’m a bit afraid but exhilarated at the same time," he explained. "When I went to Sun Valley, it was like I cracked the door open and looked in. But now I feel there is so much ahead of me with the Mount Rainier thing (he plans to use a self-powered ascent-sled to climb the mountain and then mono-ski down. He would be the first to mono-ski the Muir snowfields)."

That adventure is planned for late spring or early summer of 2014, with a team. He will be self-ascending nearing 5,000 feet to the 10,080 foot elevation of Mount Rainier with  Camp Muir as the destination. But before that journey is  undertaken, another trip to Sun Valley  is planned for next week, and will be much different from the last. He used a mono-ski there for the first time, and he was surrounded by dozens of fellow skiers and friends. 

This time he is determined to do it all with as little help as possible. The only one going with him will be his friend John Tardiff, a former Alpental ski instructor.

"When I went to Sun Valley before, I had plenty of people to help me up when I fell," he said. "It was wonderful on a social level and life-changing for me and all of them, but this next time I want to be able to pick myself up all by myself, and I will be going down a steeper slope so that should make it easier.  Learning this is like being a little kid again. 

"It’s like being a time traveler – after I got hurt I put that skier away in a glass bottle and for me to come back after almost three decades, it’s like taking it out one piece at a time. And over the years they have made great progress on the mono-skis. I will be using a donated one from K2 Sports.

"I can’t wait to fall in love with skiing again."

Mike and John will meet up with a filmmaker in Sun Valley they have been working with where they will continue their filming of "Return to Paradise," a documentary ski film that demonstrates that "recovery has no deadlines and no expiration date; it is never too late," as Mike explains in a statement on the crowd funding site Projekt Karma which he is using to promote the film.

He held a successful fundraiser after his first trip to raise money to pay for the filmmaker, travels and lodging. When the film is done, all net revenue raised from  showings and lectures will go to fund a non-profit adaptive skiing program, earmarked for injured vets from back as far as the Vietnam conflict to those injured in recent wars. They will learn how to ski using adaptive equipment that is customized to meet their individual needs, Mike says.

"That’s my cause," he said. "I never served (in the military) and I missed Vietnam so this is my chance to serve. I taught skiing for fourteen years (before the injury). I love teaching and mentoring. I want to serve a purpose. I want to make this film interesting and marketable – everyone can identify with soldiers after 9/11. "

Even the name of the website seems made-to-order. According to the online dictionary Wikipedia, "Karma" is defined as "A word meaning the result of a person’s actions as well as the actions themselves," certainly appropriate in this case.

Anyone who wishes to learn more about this cause, to donate or watch the inspiring film trailer can visit, or check Mike’s Facebook page.

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