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Never look back

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By Dan Johnson

MORRISON — Monica Bascio never asks the question that others often pose to her.

Nope. She’s too busy living in the now to think about what might have been.

That’s not to say that the events of 16 years ago don’t shape her life. They do — just perhaps not in the ways one would expect.

Bascio, paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident in California in 1992, has gone from an able-bodied recreational athlete to a world-class paralympic athlete in cross-country skiing, biathlon and handcycling.

Like anyone else, Bascio has had ups and downs in her life. But it’s how she has dealt with the lows that define her.

“I’m not all that different from anyone else,” Bascio said. “We all have baggage; mine is just more visible.”

‘I knew it instantly’

Bascio was born on Sept. 16, 1969, in Long Island, N.Y., where she lived until moving to Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1989. While living in Santa Cruz, Bascio enjoyed meeting up with friends and taking day trips to various ski resorts in the state.

One day in 1992, Bascio and a group of friends left their home base of Santa Cruz at 4 a.m. and drove four hours to find some powder in the Sierras.

Bascio’s friends that day were more accomplished skiers than she. But, never one to back down from a challenge, Bascio did her best to stick with the group.

As she approached a jump, Bascio fell out of alignment and hit the incline at an unnatural angle. She crashed and instantly knew something was wrong. Very wrong.

“I remember being off-kilter going into the jump, crashing and then not feeling my legs,” Bascio said.

An ‘inconvenient’ truth

Medical tests revealed Bascio’s plight: She would live the rest of her life without the use of both legs after suffering a break of her T12 vertebra.

The reality of her situation was inescapable, but Bascio was determined to get on with her life. Shortly after completing her rehabilitation, Bascio returned to school and earned her degree in occupational therapy.

“I look at myself as a problem solver,” Bascio said. “(The paralysis), I look at it more as an inconvenience, and I have to figure out how to live as normal a life as I can live with this.”

Ultimately that search for normalcy found an outlet in athletics. Bascio was initially concerned with things that typically plague those confined to a wheelchair, such as weight gain, poor blood circulation and infections.

Bascio didn’t want any of those things to happen to her, so she took up the new sport of handcycling. Luckily for Bascio, her husband, Ian Lawless, knew plenty about the sport.

Lawless, a former competitive cyclist, had just been named the executive director of the U.S. Handcycling Federation.

A handcycle is a three-wheel configuration with one wheel in front and two behind the bucket-type seat. The train of the handcycle is the same as that found on a regular road or mountain bike, only flipped and reversed. Riders use their hands instead of their feet to move the pedals.

Bascio quickly found success in the new sport. She was the top-ranked female rider in the world from 1999 to 2002 and won the first-ever handcycling gold medal for women at the World Championships in Altenstadt, Germany.

She appeared destined for a spot on the 2004 Paralympic Team, but the International Paralympics Committee chose not to include a women’s race in the Athens games.

Back to the skis

Undeterred by the news from the IPC, Bascio continued to train.

Only not in handcycling.

And not in California.

Bascio and Lawless packed up their belongings in 2003 and moved to Evergreen. Soon, Bascio began to train intensely in Nordic skiing.

Not shockingly, she became awfully good awfully fast.

She was the top-ranked skier in 2005-06 and competed in the 2006 Paralympic Games in Turino, Italy.

At the Games, Bascio finished fifth in the 10-kilometer cross-country skiing event and also competed in the biathlon.

Many people probably wonder if Bascio ever had second thoughts about returning to the slopes.

Not a chance.

“I’ve always loved to ski,” Bascio said. “Nothing was really going to change that.”

A growing family

As Bascio’s athletic career soared, her personal life also experienced new highs.

In July 2007, Bascio and Lawless welcomed their first child, a boy named Henry, into the world.

Bascio admits that Henry takes up more of her time and has caused her to shift her rigorous training schedule around, but it’s a sacrifice she’s happy to make.

“His smile makes your day,” Bascio said. “Everything revolves around his schedule, but all you have to do is see that smile, and you know that it’s all worth it.”

Another injury, another triumph

In February, Bascio was in Norway competing in a World Cup ski race. After the race’s conclusion, Bascio was attempting to transfer from her wheelchair to a van when she slipped and broke her leg.

The injury left Bascio unable to train until just recently, so when she showed up to compete in the 2008 Rocky Mountain Omnium, held at Morrison’s Bear Creek Lake Park on June 6, Bascio knew she wouldn’t be riding at her best.

That was a little disappointing, considering that this year’s Omnium (run as a time trial) served as part of the selection process for the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team, which will compete in the Beijing Paralympics later this summer.

Bascio didn’t qualify for the team, but then again, that wasn’t necessarily her goal. Instead, Bascio was stoked to get out and test out her new handcycle, one that had her legs tucked in under her buttocks as opposed to out in front of her body.

After crossing the finish line, Bascio gathered with her fellow competitors to talk shop. It was clear she was in her element.

Later that morning, back at the starting line, Bascio was in the midst of her cool-down when she heard a cry in the distance.

“I’ve got to go,” she said.

And off she wheeled, to attend to little Henry.

Never once looking back.