Imagine being an athletic teenager in 1973, then being told by three doctors that you have rapid degenerative juvenile MS, that there is no treatment and no cure, and to get a wheelchair and wait to die—soon.
If you were Michael Anthony, you would have told those doctors that you were going to be the exception. “I did the exact opposite of everything they advised,” Michael remembered. “I exercised like crazy: Worked on my balance, tenacity and strength. They said, ‘You can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m doing it.’”
And so he did. He also figured out a way to ski, then developed a program to teach skiing to people with disabilities. But it took all of his characteristic stubbornness to make it happen: He was kicked out of one ski area after another, accused of being drunk or stoned or that he didn’t belong.
Finally, in 1980, Michael and his partner Ron Bass found a haven at the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, in the California Sierras, 300 miles north of Michael’s home in Los Angeles. The Unrecables, a group dedicated to serving the recreation needs of people with disabilities, still has regular events at Mammoth and meets regularly in Los Angeles, though Michael, once a member, is no longer with the group.Michael Anthony ski
“Skiing actually makes a lot of sense as something people with disabilities can do,” Michael said. “A ski boot is a rigid plastic thing that holds you up, and you can’t fall forward or back because of the ski. We have outriggers, short skis to the side that create a box of stability with the ski boots in the middle. Gravity does the work—you don’t need a lot of muscle. Once you learn to control gravity, you’re a skier.”
Gradually, the word spread. “My saying was, ‘If you are an air-breathing mammal, I can teach you to ski,’ and boy, was that theory tested.” His biggest challenge was a 250-pound quadruple amputee, “a Cajun guy who had never seen snow in his life. He heard me lecture and wanted to ski enough that he lost 50 pounds in order to fit into the equipment. He did the whole hill.” Michael also wrote a training manual for teaching people with various disabilities and a certification program to teach adaptive skiing.
Skiing six months out of the year wasn’t enough for Michael, so he decided he was going to ride a bicycle. “The first time, I went half a mile out and half a mile back, and it took seven hours. I’d go 50 feet and fall, rest. Fifty feet and fall, rest.”He now uses a Currie Technologies bicycle, which helps him manage his fatigue thanks to an onboard computer system that can power up a motor when his pedaling slows. “Now I can always get back, and I can keep up with an able-bodied person.”
“My friend Mary said, ‘There’s no quit in you, is there?’ Can’t and quit are words I don’t want to have anything to do with. I know that when it’s toughest, I’m on the edge of a breakthrough, and because I know that, I keep going. There’s a point where your brain gives up fighting against you and starts working for you.”