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Gary Price takes on outdoor adventures

by Chuck Smock

Gary Price grew up in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada, but he never really heard the call of the ski slopes

He spent his winters indoors, bouncing a leather ball off a hardwood floor, working on his low-post moves, shooting free throws and grabbing rebounds.

Price skied a few times when he was in high school, but his main sports passion was basketball. He helped Douglas High win the 2A state basketball championship during his senior season, 1978-79, when he and teammate Eric Reuter were named Nevada Co-Players of the Year.

Twenty years later – and nearly 15 years after a hit-and-run accident left him paralyzed from the chest down – Price had the opportunity to get reacquainted with the sport he had mostly passed on as a youngster.

Price and more than 300 disabled veterans participated in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Colorado’s Crested Butte Mountain Resort in late March. The clinic is designed to give disabled veterans the opportunity to learn, or improve their skills in, adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing.

“I was overwhelmed with the generosity and the effort that was put on by the volunteers,” Price said. “It was such a great experience.

n Go for it. “One of the problems, when you’re in a wheelchair or disabled, you don’t even think about going down the mountain on a ski. But when you get to the clinic and see all the people who are psyched up to help you, you just have to go for it.”

After graduating from Douglas High, Price accepted an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he also played basketball as a Midshipman.

One week after graduating from the Naval Academy, in June 1984, Price was paralyzed from the chest down when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver while walking along the shoulder of a tollway in Virginia Beach, Va.

At the time of the accident, Price was two days away from leaving for his first naval assignment as an oceanography science officer on a naval research ship near Athens, Greece.

The collision broke Price’s neck between the 6th and 7th cervicals. He was hospitalized for one year – three months on the East Coast and nine months at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Medical Center in California.

Five years after he was hurt, Price opened Exotic Car Audio in the In And Out Auto Center in Carson City. The shop sells and installs stereos and speakers for everything from the family car to the high-end systems that can compete with the best car stereos in the world.

Price has devoted most of his attention to running Exotic Car Audio during the last decade, but he still has found time to participate in a variety of wheelchair sports, including softball, table tennis, basketball and quad rugby.

He also races cars.

Price competes in autocross races once a month at the Minden Airport in a two-seat Cobra he built himself. Autocross drivers race, one at a time, on short courses which feature lots of tight turns.

“Racing cars in one of the few times I can get out of my chair and compete with able-bodied people and not have a handicap,” said Price, who is in his fifth racing season.

“Especially when you have a 500-horsepower car,” he added with a laugh.

Price uses his left hand to control the gas and brake. He steers with his right hand. The car has an automatic transmission, but Price can’t always resist the urge to go a little faster by dropping into a lower gear. And when he wants to shift gears, he has to take his steering hand off the wheel.

“I know if I stay in ‘drive’ I’ll probably have a better time,” he said. “But I like the raw torque of first gear. Boys will be boys.”

Price attended his first Winter Sports Clinic four years ago. He didn’t return until this year, however.

“I really didn’t enjoy the skiing that much the first time,” he said. “Being as tall as I was, they really didn’t have the adaptive equipment at the time. It was more of a trial-and-error attempt.”

The most recent clinic was a completely different experience, Price said. He was able to use a recently developed “Bi-ski” with the help of Jim Summerville, who skied behind Price while holding on to tether lines. The lines were attached to a fiberglass shell mounted to two independently angulating skies, which allow the rider to carve downhill, parallel turns.

“Jim is a ‘go-for-it’ type of guy,” Price said. “I had complete confidence in him, and, for the first time, I really enjoyed the skiing. We had better equipment and better instructors. I really had a blast.”

One of the most thrilling moments of the trip was when Price and Summerville skied over a 4-foot drop off a cornice on an advanced-intermediate run.

n Leap of faith. “You have to have complete faith in your instructor if you’re going to be able to do those big drops,” Price said. “It was an incredible experience. I was on a natural high when I got to the bottom of the mountain. Being in a wheelchair, I don’t get out in the wilderness or the backcountry much anymore.”

Another aspect that made the trip more fun was that Price was able to take his new wife, Elizabeth, along.

“She’s quite a good skier,” Price said. “We actually had a bet going. She was going to tackle snowboarding, if I would tackle the mountain.”

Gary and Elizabeth were married on May 7 in a ceremony in Florence, Italy. They spent two months in Europe for their honeymoon.

Elizabeth also joins her husband on the race track. She and Gary will take turns driving the Cobra at races – usually with a little side bet on who will clock the fastest time.

Gary said he and Elizabeth finished last season with the same number of victories.

“She gets really competitive,” Price said.

And he doesn’t?

“I didn’t say that,” Price answered, laughing.