GET OUT: Ode to Odie

By on May 17, 2016

How one adaptive athlete serves as inspiration for knocking down life’s obstacles.

Adaptive athlete Odie Pierce and his support team embody the strength of both individual and collective determination. (Photo: adam glos)

Adaptive athlete Odie Pierce and his support team embody the strength of both individual and collective determination. (Photo: adam glos)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – You might have spotted this guy whizzing by during the winter, slashing powder turns on the slopes. Last week 22-year-old Odie Pierce became the first athlete to complete the Ultimate Towner in a wheelchair.  For this event, Pierce had to be a little more creative than the typical Jackson competitor. But for Pierce, being a person born with a disability hasn’t stopped him from doing what he wants to do.

“I’ve never known different,” he said. “I’ve only learned how to do things one way, and that’s from a chair. That’s what gives me the biggest advantage to doing adaptive sports in general.”

Pierce took part in the event as an adaptive athlete with a dedicated support team comprised of Pat Wright, Nate Fuller and Brent Tyc, and with help from members of Teton Adaptive Sports, a nonprofit that supports, promotes and develops outdoor sports and recreation opportunities for people with disabilities. Cherene Vanian, Teton Adaptive Sports coordinator, reported that Adaptive volunteers could be found all over UT, at the informational booth and in professional cheer squads.

The “Jackson vibe” tends to underestimate a person’s physical feats, but what Pierce accomplished was truly incredible.

He humbly reflected, “It was definitely a big accomplishment, but it just shows anyone can do it if you have a good support team.”

Pierce began with a hill climb straight up the bottom quarter of Snow King, using a trail rider. This piece of equipment consists of a bucket seat and has two handles in the front and back. Volunteers assisted in pushing and pulling him up the mountain, as this piece of equipment is not interactive for adaptive athletes. Pierce reported this as the most difficult mental component of the course. “Personally, the part where I couldn’t help, riding in the trail rider, was one of the hardest mentally,” he said. “I felt like I had no control over what was happening.”

For the rest of the course, Pierce self-manned a three-wheeled mountain bike, also known as the one off. With this equipment, Pierce could steer, propel and stop under his own control. The wall climbs seemed like the most interesting obstacles for this technique. Ultimate Towner organizers innovatively created anchor points on the wall. A static line was then dropped down the wall to allow Pierce to go hand-over-hand to get to the top. From here, the support team helped him get his legs over the top of the wall so he could hand-over-hand back down the other side. Have you ever tried to climb a static rope without the help of lower extremities? Pierce not only succeeded, but armed himself with positive vibes and determination to successfully finish the entire course.

Pierce reported the most difficult physical obstacle entailed getting off his bike to crawl through water. During this portion, the course traced a creek and went under a bridge. Despite the fearful and slightly unpleasant nature of these obstacles, Pierce made it through and did not finish last. While the Ultimate Towner could be an individual competition for some, teamwork is integral to a strong finish.

“It didn’t matter what team you were on, everyone was helping everyone,” Vanian said. “It was wonderful to see the comradery in this event, especially because in Jackson so much of the culture is this personal pursuit to challenge yourself in the outdoors.

“In the Ultimate Towner those personal pursuits are second to the accomplishment of the team. It was absolutely essential for our adaptive team to work together, but all teams were doing the same kind of support for one another.”

People may fear the idea of participating in extreme races in Jackson, but what is often overlooked is the amount of support there is for people of myriad backgrounds to get out there and try. This mud season obstacle course combined with Teton Adaptive Sports’ athletes and program coordinators injected inspiration into the event.

A common catch phrase of Teton Adaptive Sports is, “It’s not a disability, it’s a possibility.” The creators of the Ultimate Towner crafted a venue to explore those possibilities, while shifting the mentality of Jackson athletes who often focus on individualistic pursuits.

For those of you still shocked by Odie Pierce, I have more info to share. Unlike many “extreme athletes,” Pierce actually has to work and has a job as a small engine mechanic at Valley Lumber in Victor. So, in addition to working hard, he earns his fun time… hardcore. PJH

For more information on Teton Adaptive Sports and summer opportunities for adaptive athletes, visit tetonadaptivesports.com/summer/

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