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Living to Give

BY Ali Margo, Curtis Wackerle and Christine Benedetti | November 27, 2017 | Feature Features National

From significant financial donations to the contribution of one's time, giving to one another is a common cause among people in the Roaring Fork Valley. Here are the profiles of six that have changed lives.
Bridging Bionics physical therapist and clinical coordinator Maria Grufstedt assists Leah Potts.

The holidays are a time of giving, and while everyone loves a great present, sometimes the best gifts are the ones that can’t be bought at a store. Here are the profiles of six trajectory-changing choices that have impacted an individual or organization. The list isn’t exhaustive and it’s not comprehensive, but it’s a taste—hopefully an inspiration—of the good that people are doing on a local level. Because giving back to the community may be the best present of all.

Leah Potts steadies herself and then, just like that, stands up and starts walking.

Potts broke her neck in a skiing accident at 23 and was paralyzed from the chest down. Now 41, Potts is well-known in Aspen as a Spin instructor, avid skier and athlete who has fought every day for almost 20 years to regain her mobility. Though she can walk with a cane, it’s been strenuous and difficult, and she can only go short distances—until now.

Thanks to Bridging Bionics Foundation, Potts can walk with the assistance of a bionic exoskeleton. This $175,000 Indego robot provides the most advanced neurorehabilitation technology available anywhere in the world. Bridging Bionics has brought two bionic exoskeletons (the second is from Ekso Bionics) to the Roaring Fork Valley, to fitness centers—not hospitals—where clients can work out in a healthy environment that promotes well-being. Since the program launched in 2015, the foundation has gifted 1,723 therapeutic mobility sessions with the exoskeleton and other advanced technologies to just under 50 clients, worth approximately $300 a pop. “The technology is cost-prohibitive, not reimbursable by health insurance year-round and not accessible to the general population of those who are paralyzed,” says Bridging Bionics Executive Director Amanda Boxtel. “But I believe walking should be a human right.”

For Potts, the gift of mobility has renewed her drive to keep pushing. “I get into the robot, and I can practice perfection,” she says. She walks with the exoskeleton once or twice a week at the Snowmass Club. “I haven’t walked a mile in 20 years, and now I can go a half-mile. There are actually so many places I want to walk to, now that I know I can go the distance.”

Last summer, Mountain Rescue Aspen consistently made headlines as the number of backcountry incidents, including five fatalities on Capitol Peak, continued to increase. But what doesn’t get written about often enough is the fact that MRA, the area’s nonprofit search and rescue team, is 100 percent run by volunteers. “When you look at our building and our vehicles outside, the snowmobiles and the ATVs, and our equipment, that’s where 100 percent of the donations go to; we have no salaries that pay an executive director or other staff,” says Jeff Edelson, MRA president and rescue leader. “We’re an all-volunteer rescue team dedicated to saving lives through backcountry rescue and mountain-safety education.” In addition to operations costs, donations go to training its 50 volunteers (six of whom serve on the board of directors), an extensive process that can take up to two years, and volunteers donate about five hours each week, cumulating to 15,000 hours of time each year, Edelson says.

After what Edelson calls “a big summer,” with more fatalities and rescue missions on the high peaks than in seasons past, MRA plans to make a big push with public education in 2018. The organization aims to enhance its educational programs for avalanche awareness and big-mountain safety. Donations like a gift of more than $1 million by the Cameron family in C.B. Cameron’s name for a new building at the Airport Business Center allow MRA to operate at a much higher level, and every dollar goes toward operating costs, education, training and equipment. Ultimately, the goal isn’t so much about saving lives on their missions, but to prevent those missions from happening in the first place. 37925 Highway 82

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