For the Larsens, hitting the slopes is a family affair. Come winter, everyone travels north to Lincoln, New Hampshire, to ski or snowboard. Mom Carla — once a novice — now teaches adaptive skiing. Older son Nick even met his future wife on Loon Mountain.
But perhaps the sport’s greatest influence has been on son Eric. For years, he helped coach both kids and adults with physical and mental disabilities, teaching them adaptive skiing through the New England Disabled Sports program. His motivation went well beyond simple athleticism, however. He was giving others what skiing had given him as a teenager with cerebral palsy: a sense of belonging, freedom and achievement.
‘I was his focus’
Eric has been coming to Boston Children’s Hospital since he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy — injury to the developing brain that can affect muscle control, coordination, tone, reflex, posture and balance — as an infant. Over time, however, his needs began to evolve: With his motor difficulties worsening as he approached puberty, he was falling more often and becoming more dependent on a wheelchair. He and his parents decided that it was time for a change.
Upon their first meeting with Dr. Benjamin Shore in the hospital’s Cerebral Palsy and Spasticity Center, the Larsens knew they had made the right choice. “He talked directly with me, not my mom,” Eric remembers. The pair spoke not only about Eric’s disability but also about skiing, school and other subjects important to teenagers. “I was his focus, and that really resonated with me.”
During their discussions, Dr. Shore explained that Eric might benefit from a complex surgical procedure called distal femoral osteotomy and patellar tendon advancement that would straighten his legs and improve the function of his knees allowing for better movement. “He helped us weigh the pros and cons of surgery, but he let Eric know that it was really his decision,” says Carla. “That’s when I realized that I truly trusted this doctor.”
Trying his hardest
The surgery — which took place during the summer so Eric’s long recovery didn’t interfere with ski season — was success. He finished high school and was able to go away to college on his own with minimal accommodations. “There’s no magic wand, but the surgery got him back on his feet,” says Carla. “Dr. Shore gave Eric the opportunity for a normal college life.”
Today, Eric is a 22-year-old college senior and was just accepted into a PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He hopes that a research career in the field of biotherapeutics, the development of treatments based on biological material, will allow him to help improve the lives of people with disability on a large scale, potentially impacting millions of people.
Although his busy schedule makes it difficult to fit in extracurricular activities, Eric still enjoys recreational skiing and horseback riding when he can. And the message he has for other kids with cerebral palsy is the same as what he’s told his adaptive skiing students: “Just because you have an impairment, you still should try your hardest and not hold yourself back,” he says. “I’m no exception to that.”
Learn about the Cerebral Palsy and Spasticity Center.