Lucas Grossi grew up in Billings looking up to his older brothers. They skateboarded, so Grossi skateboarded. They snowboarded, so naturally little brother also wanted to.
Before he was even a teenager, Grossi was flying up and down the full-sized halfpipe in Billings. He took his skills to the ski hill and tried snowboarding for the first time. He loved it.
In 1988, when Grossi was 12 years old, he survived a car accident near Big Timber but lost his left leg below the knee. To walk, he needed a rigid prosthetic leg and foot. Skateboarding seemed out of the question. Snowboarding seemed out of the question.
But not for Grossi.
“My brothers were an inspiration for me,” he said. “It was the drive to be doing what they were doing.”
Over the following years, Grossi learned more than how to walk on prosthetics. He strapped his foot and leg into bindings and aspired to snowboard, even though his artificial foot and leg were designed for light activity, not necessarily shredding turns down a mountain.
Little brother was resilient, though.
“I was always getting a new prosthetic as I was growing every year,” he said. “It basically took me four or five years to get a prosthetic that was fitting well and for technology to catch up to a point where I could actually get into something comfortable.”
Years later, Grossi was ripping down the mountain. He took his skills further and in 2000 helped coordinate the first adaptive snowboard competition in the world with the United States of America Snowboard Association. The event in New Hampshire attracted five riders, including Grossi.
It proved to be a launching point for a new sport called para-snowboarding.
Grossi began organizing training camps and events for amputee riders via the Internet. At the same time, prosthetic technology kept improving and made competition more accessible for those with disabilities.
Today athletes with all types of permanent physical disabilities are able to participate in snowboarding and other outdoors activities. Below-knee and above-knee amputees can ride. Those with partial paralysis can use restrictive knee braces and outriggers. Paraplegics can cruise down the mountain on a “sit n’ jib,” similar to a mono ski. Blind riders can take turns with or without the help of a guide.
As Grossi says, “It just takes the right attitude and a little trial and error.”
Grossi has remained a coach, organizer and competitor of adaptive events across the U.S. over the last decade.
Now that he has helped the sport flourish, he’s focusing solely on another goal.
The 36-year-old Whitefish resident is competing in qualifier events, hoping to land a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team. The 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, will feature para-snowboarding for the first time. The boardercross competition, which sends riders down a timed course of turns and inclines, was added to a lineup that includes alpine and cross-country skiing, biathlon, wheelchair curling and sledge hockey.
Coinciding with the Summer and Winter Olympics, the Paralympics is the pinnacle international event for athletes with physical disabilities. The first games were held in the winter of 1976 in Sweden. They’ve since expanded into the largest international athletic event besides the Olympics. A total of 44 nations and 506 athletes participated in the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia.
This winter, Grossi has competed at two North American qualifying events and placed fourth among U.S. competitors and sixth internationally. His success earned him a spot at this year’s World Cup finale, which is later this month in British Columbia. The goal is to earn enough competition points to be selected for one of the five para-snowboarding spots on the U.S. team.
“The Paralympics was always something that was there and on the burner but it was definitely on the backburner,” he said.
Grossi has been working with Doug Jack at Northern Care Prosthetics and Orthotics in Kalispell and members of Ottobock, a company that designs and builds prosthetics. Jack first met Grossi 14 years ago when Grossi was pushing the limits of his prosthetics as an active athlete.
“I’ve learned one thing, you’ve got to make it heavy duty for him because he’s putting some serious torque on that prosthesis when he’s up on the slopes,” Jack said. “We both have a love for the outdoors and it’s neat to help enable him to do the things he wants to do by making him a bomb-proof prosthesis. I feel very good about that. It’s a pretty awesome job. A very rewarding job.”
For Grossi, he’s been able to set aside organizing events for the first time in years and ride like he did when he was a kid.
“This is an opportunity for me to come back just as an athlete, which is really huge for me,” he said. “It’s a really great way for me to just go out and really enjoy a sport that I’ve always loved.”
Follow Grossi’s pursuit of the 2014 Winter Paralympics on his website, www.originalgimp.com.
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