Walking strong

by • December 18, 2013 • Safety MattersComments (0)2775

After snowmachine accident, Johnson refuses to sit still


Brad Johnson sits astride his sled at Hatcher Pass. Courtesy Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson sits astride his sled at Hatcher Pass. Courtesy Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson can’t tell you the date he got hurt in a snowmobile accident despite the fact it changed his life forever. Not because he doesn’t remember but because he refuses to look back.

“I’m focused on going forward,” he says matter-of-factly. “I lay in a hospital bed for a month having doctors tell me I would likely never walk again. And I made the decision that was a lie. I refused to accept that outcome.”

For the record, the date was Feb. 4, 2012, when tragedy struck. Johnson and a group of about 30 friends were riding and jumping their snowmachines in Hatcher Pass off Archangel Trail trying to capture film footage that would attract sponsorships to fund his riding career.

“It was a 2- to 3-foot ‘pow’ day. Bluebird. It was great, and I was stoked. We were using my iPhone to film, and I was feeling really confident we were going to get some great shots,” he recalled of that day.

“We were taking some huge drops and nailing ’em,” he continued. “I saw this big hit so I set my friend up with my camera phone and took this 110-foot jump. I was expecting a super cush landing but when I hit it was ‘boiler plate’ hard. I slammed into the machine and broke my back at T-12.”

At the time Johnson didn’t know just how bad he was really hurt. But he knew it wasn’t good. “The pain was excruciating, and I couldn’t feel my legs.”

To Johnson’s good fortune, the group he was riding with included skilled medical professionals and fast-acting friends who had him strapped to a stretcher, skidded down the hill to a waiting helicopter and transported to the hospital in less than an hour.

“It was actually pretty amazing how fast everything happened,” Johnson said.

He knew he was paralyzed but the harsh truth was delivered when radiology results confirmed the injury was permanent. He was paralyzed from the waist down.

“They told me I would never ride again,” he said. “I was crushed. Devastated. I just couldn’t believe that. Of course I was going to ride again. I would just have to figure out how.”

Determination drove him forward and he began to formulate a plan that would get him up on his feet, and more importantly in his mind, back on the seat of his sled.

He poured himself into healing and physical therapy to rebuild strength, and in an unprecedented turnaround, he defied the doctors and was back riding his sled just two months later.

Brad Johnson, walking with his Kustom Fit Orthotic (KFO) leg braces. Courtesy Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson, walking with his Kustom Fit Orthotic (KFO) leg braces. Courtesy Brad Johnson

“That was the absolute high point for me in my riding career,” he says with a lazy grin. “The day I got back on that sled and found out I could still ride like I always had just fueled my determination to keep going; push even harder.

“Powder riding is everything to me. I live for it. If I couldn’t ride powder, I don’t know what I’d do.

“My goal is to show others that you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t give up. I want to inspire kids and adults through my story while achieving my own goals.”

His journey has not been easy.

“All of a sudden, a task that would take a normal person a minute to do was impossible for me. I spent five long months in a wheelchair and a hard year working constantly to get strong enough to do the things I’m doing now.

“Today I walk using KFO leg braces, and forearm crutches. I think I’m one of the only people in the world using them full time.”

Johnson is unwavering in his drive to show the world what is possible.

He says that while life has changed dramatically for him, giving up has never been an option.

“You just have to try harder,” he says. “I ride every day. I’m having fun. And I’m still smiling.  So life is good.

“All I ever wanted to do was be a professional snowmachine rider. It was always my dream and I’m not ever letting go of that. I may have to rely on my friends a lot more these days, which has been really hard for me, but I have great friends and it’s all worth it.”

When asked what advice he would give to others chasing a similar dream Johnson said,  “Calm down a little. Be patient and take the time to really check out what you’re getting into before you commit and go for it. I was just in too much of a hurry.

“If you are willing to be patient and work for it, your dream will come to you. Just don’t try to rush and take shortcuts.”

To learn more about Johnson you can check out his video at http://youtu.be/mlkxg5AQhg.

All of us at the North America Outdoor Institute appreciate Johnson sharing his story so that others can be inspired and learn from his tragedy.

NAOI offers a menu of training opportunities to help you ‘chase your dream safely.’ Get a full schedule of upcoming courses by visiting BeSnowSmart.org or call 907-376-2898 to learn more.

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