Waterskiing helps Utahns with disabilities rediscover outdoors thrill



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

VERNON, Tooele County — Think of the most thrilling day you've had recently. That's the kind of day that 10 people with neurological disabilities had out behind a ski boat in Tooele County on Thursday.

Two Utah physical therapy companies have teamed up for more than a dozen years to help their patients feel the thrill of life accelerated.

"Oh, my gosh! I popped up! There's no way that I just got up because I was expecting to fall," said Taylor Cutler, right after water skiing on a custom ski for the first time.

Once she started skiing, she did not want to stop. She felt the kind of excitement that comes from letting go, trying something new, and soaking it in.

That's why physical therapists with Mountain Land Physical Therapy and Neuroworx put on adaptive ski days at Last Chance Lakes each summer.

"It literally means the world," Cutler said.

She was an adrenaline junkie before a car crash five years ago left her paralyzed from the chest down. When she was in the hospital recovering, she said somebody gave her a DVD with examples of adaptive sports she might want to try. At that time, she decided she definitely wanted to try adaptive water skiing.

This had been on her bucket list for several years.

"When I got my accident, a lot of my hobbies and interests changed a bunch. So having all of these adaptive sports just gives me that outlet," she said.

It's the kind of activity that has motivated her in other aspects of life. Cutler believes that if she can water ski, she can live life with few limitations.

"If I can pop up on the first try, I can do literally anything," she said.

Matt Hansen, a physical therapist with Neuroworx, and Rick Lybbert, a physical therapist with Mountain Land Physical Therapy, started these adaptive ski days 14 years ago at Last Chance Lakes near Vernon.

Think of the most thrilling day you've had recently. That's the kind of day that 10 people with neurological disabilities had out behind a ski boat in Tooele County on Thursday.
Think of the most thrilling day you've had recently. That's the kind of day that 10 people with neurological disabilities had out behind a ski boat in Tooele County on Thursday. (Photo: Winston Armani, KSL-TV)

"I've always been very passionate about water skiing, and I've always been very passionate about physical therapy," said Lybbert. "It seemed like a good idea to put the two together."

"Everyone that's come out today, they've never skied before since injury, and probably never thought that they could," said Hansen. "So to see them get out there and thrive and have some fun is awesome."

For people who have lost some of their physical abilities through life-altering injuries, waterskiing offers an opportunity to enjoy the excitement of cruising behind a boat at 20 to 25 mph with water spraying in their faces.

"When you have a life-altering traumatic injury, it changes everything. It flips their lives upside down," Hansen said. "So, to let them know that there are opportunities out there, and things to do and have fun and still thrive makes it all worth it."

Michael Hawkins went rock climbing for the first time a couple of weeks ago and decided to give adaptive water skiing a try Thursday. He had brain cancer two years ago and it robbed him of some of his physical abilities. He enjoyed baseball, snowboarding and backpacking.


When I got my accident, a lot of my hobbies and interests changed a bunch. So having all of these adaptive sports just gives me that outlet.

–Taylor Cutler


"I think one disadvantage of being disabled is that you know what it's like to feel normal. And when that's taken away, that's hard. So getting back to it is a big deal," he said.

He said cruising on the waterski felt like he reclaimed some of those feelings.

"It kind of felt, maybe a little closer to normal day-to-day life for me," he said.

For Hawkins, that's the reward because he knows he might not have been alive today.

"There's just a deep sense of gratitude to be able to come and serve this way," Lybbert said. "I think everybody involved, the skiers, all the volunteers, it's a great experience for all of us."

The physical therapists share the thrills that make the patients feel so alive and they are ready for the next challenge.

"They are so inspiring, and they just remind you of how much we all have," Lybbert said.

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Jed Boal

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