Vernon amputee to compete in Paralympics
Dan Monzo to snowboard on March 7 in Sochi
Dan Monzo career highlights
2014 World Cup La Molina, 10th run 1, 8th run 2
World Cup Copper Mountain, 11th run 1, 11th run 2
World cup Big White, 13th run 1, 15th run 2
2013 IPCAS Copper Mountain (March), 5th
IPCAS Copper Mountain (Feb) 10th, IPCAS Twin Bridges, 13th
2011 ESPN Winter X Games, 3rd
2010 US National Championships, 1st
VERNON — On a sunlit spring day, the air still crisp from the previous night's rain, 15-year-old Dan Monzo took his Yamaha MX 125 out for a spin around his Glenwood neighborhood. It was a Sunday that would forever change the course of his young life.
All Monzo remembers is seeing the car, tumbling around violently, then trying to get up.
"I was surprised, and I am thrilled that I will be a part of history in the making."
— Dan Monzo of Vernon, who will compete in the Para-Olympics in Sochi on March 7.
His frantic parents, hearing the commotion, came running down the street to find their child had been struck by a car.
Monzo's father Al, crouched over his son and said, "Dan, your leg! It's backwards."
"Dad, can I still snowboard?"
Monzo had just learned to snowboard that winter season and the sport had become addictive for him. The accident was serious, and Monzo had lost a lot of blood and his leg muscle was non-functional. Doctors spoke to him telling Monzo they could attempt a vein graph, but there was a high risk of infection if he wanted to chose that route.
The other choice?
Amputate the leg below his knee. He chose to amputate.
"I don't know if it was the heavy pain medication I was on, or a higher power, but it never bothered me to amputate my leg," says Monzo, who is now 23 years old.
"It took awhile for me to heal because it was an open wound and my skin had to grow back. Six months later I was fitted for my prosthetic leg and it took me a few weeks to learn to walk with it. Once I did that my next step was to figure out if I could snowboard."
Getting back on the board
Monzo got his answer two weeks later when he attended a rail jam at Mountain Creek, strapped on a snowboard for the first time, hopped on the rail and proudly cleared the jump and fell face first into the mud. It was then he made the decision to become a professional adaptive snowboarder.
"I was so happy that day because I realized I could still snowboard," says Monzo.
After that, a thought started sinking in to Monzo's head.
"I wondered if there were any other paraplegic snowboarders out there, so I just Googled one legged snowboarders," says Monzo.
Monzo found a blog titled "Original Gimp" by Lucas Grossi, an avid snowboarding athlete who's leg was severed in an accident when he was 12. Grossi, started the first adaptive snowboard competition in the world and was a representative for Adaptive Division of United States of America Snowboard Association for 10 years.
Inspired by the blog, Monzo, who has his own email address humorously titled Stumpy, shot Grossi an email and was soon asked to join him at Windells Camp in Oregon.
"I didn't think it would turn into anything, but I met blind people, people with no legs, it was amazing, and I learned so many new tricks," says Monzo.
Monzo began participating in competitions and did very well, but he still had some bumps in the road to plow through. During his junior year in high school, Monzo began experiencing a common phenomenon to many amputees — phantom pains.
"It feels like intense tingling, like when your arm is asleep, but you feel it in the missing body part, only that body part is not there," explains Monzo.
The phantom pains adversely affected his sleep, and led to a plummet in his grades. Monzo was at risk for not graduating high school and his family was concerned.
During this time he was still in contact with Lucas Grossi who was starting a program out in Utah, which would provide professional couching for snowboarders. With his parents blessing, Monzo earned his GED and made the decision to go out west and train in Park City, Utah at the National Ability Center, a nonprofit organization which encourages athletes with physical or cognitive disabilities to follow their dream.
Soon Team Utah, which provides coaching to kids who otherwise would not be able to afford it, contacted Monzo. A professional coach can set an athlete back $25,000. For Monzo, who credits his parents, friends and family in sacrificing everything to help him achieve his goals, Team Utah was a blessing that he could not be more thankful for.
"My parents are my biggest supporters, and all costs were out of pocket," he says. "Family and friends held fundraisers for me and without them I would not have this chance."
Monzo began entering and placing well in events such as, Half Pipe, Nationals, and World Cup. The fight to get snowboarding approved into the Paralympics was not an easy feat, however it was a fight worth working for.
"The first time it got denied, I felt like we were going through the same fight snowboarders went through in the 1970's when it was a newer sport trying to get approved for the Olympics," says Monzo. "When it finally was allowed in 1988, this was a huge victory and trying to work to get it approved in the Paralympics seemed like the same process. It was pretty cool for us to read about what snowboarders went through in the 70's and then for us to go through a similar fight."
When it was announced that snowboarding was officially approved, Monzo says it felt as if a switch went on inside of him.
"Everyone was stoked," he says. "We were like wow, this is serious."
Seeing if he made the Para-team was extremely nerve wracking for Monzo, as he believed he had only a shot in the dark.
"I was surprised, and I am thrilled that I will be a part of history in the making," says Monzo.
The Paralympics opening ceremony will be held in Sochi, on March 7, and Monzo encourages everyone to tune in to this momentous occasion as he attempts to bring home the gold. However, Monzo has goals that reach beyond winning medals.
"My mission statement... what I want everyone to know, is that I do this because this is what I love and believe in. No matter where you are from, life is precious, and instead of wasting life on drinking or using drugs, use that precious life to pursue your dreams," says Monzo.
Monzo admits, it took his accident and almost losing his life to get to where he is today.
"Like many kids, I was headed down the wrong path. Now it makes me sad to see kids without dreams, kids whose aspirations don't go beyond what party they will be going to on Saturday night," he continues, "The accident made me realize that everyone should do what makes them happy and anyone that I can encourage not to get high, even if its just for one day, I think that is positive, because even if you can stop for one day and go running or doing something you love, that means you have the power to stop again," encourages Monzo.
The future is ablaze with hopes, dreams and big plans for Monzo as he aspires to start a snowboarding program in New Jersey.
"I think it would be a great thing for the Tri-State area since there is nothing like it in N.J.," says Monzo. "If I can help other kids achieve their dreams, then I have achieved my number one goal."
To learn more about Dan Monzo or to donate to help pay for coaching — since Dan has no personal sponsors — visit his Go Fund account at www.gofundme.com/1tlys0. Or follow Dan on his Twitter page @danielmonzo.
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