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Wheels Up! Wrap Up

Meet the winners of this year's Wheels Up! Photo Contest

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Reprinted from SNS September 2001
? With the sun barely rising upon the horizon, the water of Nacimiento Lake on California?s central coast looks like it?s covered with a golden wrapper. The serenity, however, is somewhat broken by a steady hum?the sound of boats in the distance. You can see them maneuvering swiftly on the lake, towing skiers and wakeboarders.

From a distance all the people look the same. But if you find yourself at the lake, located in Paso Robles, you might see a different silhouette being towed?that of a quad using a sit ski to get around in a swift and easy fashion.

Lacking hand strength as well as being partially paralyzed, Brent Poppen holds the ski handle with his wrist, making the sport that much more challenging. For the 27-year-old, being on the lake and wakeboarding has been an escape. Though that holds true for most of the sports? participants, it is especially so for him.

In 1991, Poppen was in a wrestling accident at a church camp. A spinal-cord injury (SCI), severe enough to classify him as an incomplete quadriplegic (some function in all four of his extremities), ended his hopes of continuing his athletic career in college. The injury left Poppen using a wheelchair?except for the time he spends in the water.

?Not having to use a chair while ?going big? on the water is one of the sport?s draws for me,? he says. ?It is a feeling of freedom not often felt.?

Never one to sit back and watch others ?do,? Poppen is one who ?does.? Shortly after his accident, the worlds of quad rugby and tennis received a new competitor. He holds a number of tennis titles and has played on three national quad-rugby championship teams.

In 1998, Poppen decided the time was right for him and his new wife Erika to move from southern California to Paso Robles. Shortly after their move, the Poppens purchased a Malibu boat. Family members and friends visited and headed out to enjoy the lake. They took to the water as Poppen drove the boat around the spacious lake.

Even though it gave him great joy to spend time with his family, Poppen began feeling the urge to try the water himself; wakeboarding proved to be especially attractive to him.

?Wakeboarding allows for more of a ?freestyle? skiing involving tricks (slides, spins, etc.) that a water-ski does not allow you to do,? he says.

Poppen?s wakeboard is the same kind able-bodied people use. He says the seating system (cage) that Sunrise Medical (Quickie) makes is identical for sit skis and wakeboards.

At first the going was a little choppy, and the initial learning process proved to be tougher than Poppen imagined. On his first day out he spent three consecutive hours being dragged and battered before he was able to get on top of the water. He began in shallow water and, with the help of others, worked as hard as he could to perfect another sport in an effort to feel ?free again.?

Looking at Poppen today, the story is much different. On his Liquid Force wakeboard, Poppen is now taking off on deep-water starts as well as tricking with slides, spins, and big air.

Poppen often says ?the bigger I go, the better I feel,? which fits him in all aspects of his life.

??I was by no means granted any special ?physical return? with my recovery,? he says. ?I have no leg use, no hand use, and not a whole lot of ab-muscle use. What I am blessed with is the desire to raise the bar of what people with disabilities can do and not quit until it is done!?

This article was written by James Melroy. Contact: Brent Poppen,

? Dreams are often developed at a young age, and sometimes life?s goals come from them. Duane Norman was like a lot of young boys who dreamed of being a race-car driver.

At age 19, Norman was in the second year of a contract with a Midwestern tire company and was paid to live his dream, racing non-wing sprint cars. However, during summer 1970, Norman was in a racing accident that resulted in a C5?7 spinal-cord injury. Due to his training as a medic in the Air Force Reserves, he was painfully aware that his life?s dream had just ended.

With the support of his family, friends, and the state of Missouri, Norman attended the University of Missouri and earned a bachelor?s degree in behavioral sciences, followed by a master?s in vocational rehab. In 1978, he moved to San Diego, took a position with Sharp Rehab Hospital, and, in 1990, with his wife Felicia, started the company Composite Medical Equipment (CME).

After moving to San Diego, old dreams resurfaced and Norman built and ran a dune buggy in the desert. He also earned his pilot?s license flying sailplanes at Sky Sailing in Warner Springs, Calif. And in? 1998, he started dreaming about racing again.

With reluctant blessings from his wife, in 1998 Duane started modifying a 1973 Datsun 510 and mid-season 1999 he returned to racing. With support from many areas, the 2000 season was a very good one. Norman competed in and won the season-long SCCA SOLO II Autocross Championship in Street Mod class for the San Diego region.

Norman proved that dreams don?t have to die, they just require a little modification.

Contact: Duane Norman,


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