David Poole pushes limits of adaptive sports

By Rachel Anderson EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – David Poole is changing the adaptive sports world. The 30-year-old Bozeman resident is continually challenging himself, pushing the limits in a variety of extreme sports.

Growing up in Townsend, Mont., Poole started skiing Bridger Bowl Ski Area when he was 3 years old. But even at a young age, he had a positive attitude.

“I always tried my best, and I never gave up,” he says.

Poole’s passion continued to grow into adulthood, and after leaving the Northern Rockies of Montana after high school, Poole headed south to Colorado’s Copper Mountain Ski Resort. There he worked as a chairlift operator, bumping chairs and living his dream to ski on a daily basis.

On the afternoon of Jan. 22, 2006, however, Poole’s life changed forever at the age of 21. He took his lunch break to ski a line he’d been scoping.

“I thought it was ready to ski,” Poole said. “I saw a line I wanted to hit for a while, and I got caught.”

Poole launched an 80-foot cliff, clipping rocks on the takeoff, and was tossed forward. Skiing alone, he remembers aiming for his line then suddenly tumbling down the cliffside.

“I woke up in the snow. My upper body was cold and it seemed like my lower body was warm,” Poole said. “I didn’t realize I was broken in half.”

He was airlifted by helicopter to Denver, where he learned he had sustained a T7 complete spinal cord injury to his lower back, paralyzing him below the injury.

“I had to start over and started at square one,” said Poole, who spent three months in rehabilitation at Denver’s Craig Hospital adjusting to life after the injury. “I learned how to accept that people are different … I accepted that my life is different.”

By maintaining an undaunted optimism, Poole was determined to keep living on his own terms, according to Poole’s mother, Virginia.

“David’s positive attitude helped him overcome the challenges that had now become everyday life,” Virginia said. “He wasn’t going to allow his injury to keep him from doing all the things he loved.”

Poole continued to move forward with his passions despite his handicap, by hunting, fishing and camping, Virginia added. “He kept right on doing it,” she said. “Of course skiing had been his first love, and within a year of his injury he was back at it.”

Returning to the slopes at Copper Mountain in November of the same year, Poole worked intensely to master the alpine sit ski.

Poole slashing the pow on his sit ski last winter at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. PHOTO COURTESY OF DIRTMYTH PHOTOGRAPHY

Poole slashing the pow on his sit ski last winter at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. PHOTO COURTESY OF DIRTMYTH PHOTOGRAPHY

“For two winters there, I hit it really hard, and I was able to get my progression going pretty quickly,” Poole said. “I skied three to five days a week. [At first] it was [ski] 10 feet, fall over. Go another 10 feet, fall over.”

Advancing his abilities rapidly, Poole has skied Big Sky Resort’s Big Couloir and launches cliffs in the Challenger chairlift terrain.

But conquering the mountain was only the beginning for Poole. Today, he’s participating in many adaptive sports including Nordic skiing, biathlon, wake surfing, off-road hand cycling, rafting, ice and rock climbing, among others. He works part time as a peer advocate and mentor with Montana Independent Living Project, a nonprofit agency providing services to promote independence for people with disabilities.

“It’s easier for me to accept who I am, and the injury, if I can continue to enjoy my life,” he said.

Poole is now developing a new sport: downhill bucket biking, in which a sit-ski bucket is mounted on a downhill bike. With the help of his friends, he uses only his hands to brake around technical maneuvers and jumps. Hitting the downhill trails at Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort and Discovery Bike Park in Philipsburg, Poole is inspiring everyone around him.

Liz Welles, Poole’s friend and fellow adventurer, has experienced this motivation firsthand.

“Nothing scares or stops him,” Welles said. “There are never excuses with David. He does [things] because he can.”

Poole describes himself as an adventure athlete who’s changing people’s perspective of what’s possible for adaptive athletes. He believes if you want something bad enough you’ll try harder, especially when you fall down.

“I can’t tell you how many high fives he receives in an average day on the mountain,” Welles said. “When we head up the tram at Big Sky Resort or over to Schlasman’s lift at Bridger Bowl, people just lose it when they see how easily he can navigate expert terrain.”

Cycling-apparel company Club Ride, and seating and postural support systems manufacturer Comfort Company sponsor Poole in races and competitions around the country. He’s taken part in the Adventure Team Challenge Race with World T.E.A.M. Sports since 2012, taking second place in 2015; competed in the International Paralympics Committee Biathlon 2013 World Cup; and named 2012 Off Road Hand Cycle World Champion.

At the end of January, Poole will head to Aspen, Colo., to compete in the 2016 X Games in Mono Skier X.

Poole hopes his no-excuse attitude will show others what they’re capable of, as he seeks the ultimate rush of extreme adaptive sports.

“I tell people, ‘I didn’t get in a wheelchair [by] being careful,’” he said.