Barlow grad is a member of a national champion wheelchair rugby team and an up-and-coming real estate broker
Kip Johnsons life changed forever Dec. 21, 2003.
On his first warm-up of the day with the Sam Barlow High School ski team at Mt. Hood Skibowl, Johnson lost control on a hill, struck a tree and suffered a severe spinal cord injury.
With five broken vertebrae and ribs, Johnson became quadriplegic.
Those words Your son broke his neck make your knees buckle, said Lisa Johnson, Kips mother.
Within a month, Johnson moved from intensive care to rehab at Legacy Emanuel Hospital. His aunt, a retired teacher, tutored him in the hospital for four months, allowing Johnson to complete his senior year of high school in April 2004 and return to school in a wheelchair.
The strong-as-an-ox 18-year-old, who had played a full season of football and threw javelin on the track team, lost 60 pounds and was hardly able to push himself across the gym floor.
You walk around without a care in the world and then all of a sudden everybody treats you differently, Johnson said of his classmates. They didnt know what to think. They didnt know how to react.
Almost 10 years later, Johnson, now 27, has launched a career in real estate as a broker with John L. Scott in Sandy and recently won the national wheelchair rugby championships with the Portland Pounders, a sweet victory after winning second place four years in a row.
Johnson joined the team just eight months after his accident and says its had a huge influence on his life.
Its definitely really big for freshly injured guys to get involved with a program like Pounders because it makes you realize life is still there, Johnson said. It makes you feel like youre not disabled that life is normal.
A new sport
Often, newly-injured athletes think theyll never be able to compete again, but coach Ed Suhr was eager to involve Johnson in the Portland Pounders.
In fall 2004, Johnson spent five hours at a practice and fell in love with the sport.
Its always fun to be able to watch people get acclimated to a sport as both an athlete and a person, Suhr said of injured athletes now in chairs. It opens peoples eyes to other things a lot more things. Sometimes its just that they become more aware of their bodies that theyre stronger, fitter and better at simple things like transferring from the chair, but it adds to their confidence.
A decade later, the Portland Pounders remains a passion of Johnsons, and its a sport the whole family is involved with, traveling across the country and to Vancouver, B.C., for tournaments.
Johnsons father, Gordon, manages all the equipment and acts as the mechanic for the Pounders, and Lars Mertens, a player from Belgium, lived with the Johnsons this past year.
You could just tell we were back to life, Lisa Johnson said. Its a whole new world hes involved with. You have no idea about it when youre a healthy, strong young kid. But there are athletes all over the world in chairs who are top-of-the-line athletes.
What lies ahead
In whatever group hes been new to in the past nine years, Johnson said people are not usually accustomed to seeing someone in a chair.
Instead of seeing it as a challenge, he sees it as an opportunity to make others aware of disabilities.
Johnson, a Damascus resident since age 4, became interested in real estate through family friend Marie Teune, of John L. Scott in Sandy. After receiving his associate degree in business from Mt. Hood Community College and earning his real estate license at the first of the year, Johnson is focused on building his business.
I want to figure out how to market myself the best way and shape my business, he said.
One of the biggest challenges families face when a relative is injured is how to adapt their home. Do they remodel? Do they sell their house?
The Johnsons kept Kips hospital bed in the dining room and living room for the longest time as his bedroom had been down three flights of stairs. Ultimately, they decided to build him an apartment room on the first floor, with easy access to his van.
Having been through the situation and knowing what to expect when people come home, I would really like to help people transition their homes, Johnson said. I want to be able to help set them up with builders who remodel for accessibility.
Johnson is also happy to mentor recently injured people, whether its working on housing or connecting them with an adapted sport theyll love, such as hand-cycling.
Along with another season with the Portland Pounders ahead (the season runs September through April), Johnson is planning his third Hood to Coast with Oregon Disability Sports.
Life can suck, but there are always things to do and have fun with, Johnson said. I want to be able to help people out a lot.