Mark Simpson may not be able to walk, but he definitely can snowboard. Born in Bombay, India, with deformed legs, Simpson suffered many medical complications before finally having his legs amputated in 2005 at the age of 17. Now in his freshman year at Liberty University, he recently decided to get out of his wheelchair and try snowboarding at the school’s new year-round ski slope, the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre. The facility opened in August and is the first of its kind in the U.S. Snowflex is a synthetic material that simulates the effects of snow.
“My roommate and I had heard about Snowflex and so one Wednesday night we really weren’t doing anything and decided to try it,” Simpson said. “So we came up and went tubing. The first time I went it was really freaky, but then I got the adrenaline rush of being able to go downhill like that.”
He spent his first day on the slopes tubing, but set a goal of snowboarding by the end of the Fall 2009 semester. On Dec. 10 he reached that goal after figuring out how to situate himself on the snowboard. He positions himself between the leg bindings on the board and then holds on to those bindings with his hands.
“The snowboard is like my skateboard; it’s just balancing your weight and figuring out how to turn and stuff like that,” Simpson said.
So far he has only tried out the beginner slope, but he already has plans to try the intermediate and advanced runs.
“I have a goal that before my four years are up I want to get up on the big slope,” he said. “I think it would be totally exciting.”
Simpson is a Criminal Justice major who was adopted from India at age 2 and now calls Columbia, S.C., home. He had never been tubing or snowboarding before trying out the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre and although he fell a few times, he hopes he can encourage more people to try the facility.
“I think the message for other people who might be scared to come up here is that although snowboarding might not be everyone’s thing, I feel like if you come up and see the other people having fun it will change your heart and mind about this,” Simpson said. “Don’t let your fear of the rough turf keep you back. Yes you might fall, but that’s how you learn and that’s how you get back up again.”
Looking out from the centre’s beginner slope, Simpson said he was overwhelmed by the excitement of the moment and the area’s natural beauty.
“I enjoy doing this. It’s not just snowboarding, it’s also the view. Looking out you have to realize that God made all of this, and thinking about these miles and miles of mountains is overwhelming in a lot of ways.”