SUSQUEHANNA VALLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER
& MERRELL BRAND AMBASSADOR
I’ve lived in Broome County my entire life. Like a lot of locals, my grandparents were brought to the area because they found work here. My wife and I still have a lot of family in the area.
My childhood was pretty average. My family and I enjoyed the benefits of our local community and I specifically enjoyed playing youth sports until I was 15 years old. When I was 15 years old, and in tenth grade, I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in my right leg and as a result, I had my right leg amputated above the knee in addition to 6 months of chemotherapy.
This obstacle in my life became a new beginning for me. I began my new life as an amputee and cancer survivor, which led to my life being filled to this day with opportunities, growth and gratitude.
While I was in high school, after my amputation, I continued to play high school sports, like swimming and lacrosse, but I developed a strong passion for alpine ski racing. This passion lead to setting goals to make the United States Adaptive Ski Team, which I eventually did in 1997.
While attending Johnson City High School, I met my high school sweetheart, who is now my wife. She went to Maine Endwell High School. We started dating our senior year when we both realized we would be staying locally to attend SUNY Broome Community College and Binghamton University.
I decided to go to BCC because I was skiing full-time and I needed to find a creative way to ski all across the country and start getting my secondary education at the same time.
I attended BCC mostly in the fall semesters, then traveled out west and lived mostly in Colorado during the spring semesters, before coming back home and making up that schooling in the summers.
After getting a two-year liberal arts degree from BCC, I transferred to Binghamton University where I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Human Development in 2000.
My wife and I got engaged and married after we realized we were both going to stay here after college and build our careers. I skied full-time until 2002 in addition to substitute teaching locally in the Vestal and Johnson City school districts to help pay the bills. After I retired from the ski team in 2002, I began working full-time under a federal grant through Binghamton University geared towards at-risk youth in the Binghamton City School District.
A few years later, Binghamton University created its Master’s program for Social Work (MSW). My work under the grant made me realize that social work and assisting youth was where my passion was and I went back to the University for that.
I was a member of the first part-time class for the MSW program when I graduated in 2006. After I graduated with my MSW, I secured a full-time job with the Susquehanna Valley School District as a middle school social worker. I’ve been there ever since.
Working in our local school districts for almost twenty years has been really enjoyable. Whether I was in the JC, Vestal, Binghamton or SV schools, I always felt comfortable and like I genuinely knew everyone in our teaching community here.
My interests and hobbies outside work – some may call them “extreme” – over the years have taken me worldwide to some unbelievable places, far from Broome County.
When I was ski-racing, I had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand, Europe and Japan, in addition to dozens of places across North America. These opportunities were nothing short of amazing and spectacular.
My dedication to ski racing as a member of the U.S. Adaptive Alpine Ski Team afforded me the opportunity to compete in both the 1998 Nagano, Japan and the 2002 Salt Lake City, UT Paralympics. Representing your country at the highest level competition provided unforgettable experiences and growth for me.
Years after I retired from the ski team, I found a new hobby and got into obstacle course racing (OCR). Since 2013, I’ve participated in dozens of OCR races locally and across the country.
In 2016 and 2017, I committed to a 24-hour obstacle course race in the extremes of the desert, just outside of Las Vegas, NV, battling intense heat during the day and near freezing temperatures at night.
Climbing mountains through loose gravel, doing hundreds of obstacles and getting in and out of frigid bodies of water, while trying to maintain a consistent moving pace for 24 hours straight, was a significant mental and physical challenge. Those two 24-hour obstacle course races were the most extreme OCR events I’ve completed.
Through interest in these activities, I was able to connect with outdoor brand Merrell, a partner company of an obstacle course brand whose races I participated in. After meeting some of the Merrell team at a few races, they initially supported me by providing me with specialized footwear.
I officially became a Merrell ambassador in September 2018 when I committed to climbing Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador – with a 19,347 foot summit.
I chose this new challenge to help support a non-profit organization called Range of Motion Project (ROMP). That expedition was beyond my imagination. There were nineteen of us on that team and ten of those individuals were also amputees, like me. There are no words to describe the emotions you feel standing on top of a 20,000 ft active volcano.
Since then, I’ve represented Merrell, not just because it’s a great brand (because it is), but because I believe in what they represent – protecting the environment and getting people of all abilities and backgrounds outside.
Merrell really tries to break barriers by bringing more diversity to the outdoors. Being an adaptive athlete due to my above knee amputation, in addition to my love for outdoor activities, Merrell believes I can help increase that diversity in the outdoors through our partnership.
There’s a lot of people in our country who don’t access our national and state parks. Merrell wants to reach those people who don’t utilize our parks as they should – that extends to our beautiful local parks as well.
No matter where my obstacle course racing, or other extreme sports have taken me, I will always consider Broome County my home base. I enjoy visiting places worldwide, but I don’t want to live in those places and make that my life.
I want Broome to be home – and it is. My wife and I know this is the right place for us to be until our kids bring us somewhere else, or keep us here for the long haul.
Here, you get sort of a small town feel, but it’s not so small where you can’t get your needs met.
Our area is thriving. Downtown Binghamton now reminds me of what it was described to me as when my grandparents first came here. I never saw that, but our region looks alive now. Once you recognize and embrace that, you’ll see we’ve got it good here.
There’s a lot of good stuff that people just don’t see – they’re stuck on seeing things that were here in the past. It really is all about how you see things.
It’s tough when you get knocked down. I know it is and I’ve been there. But once you train your mind, you’ll have a different mindset and find the opportunities, instead of seeing the obstacles.
The Susquehanna Valley School District is part of why #Broomeisgood.