Community rallies behind act of kindness for paralyzed business owner
April 22, 2018
It was a special weekend for Winter Park resident and business owner Steve Pisano, who was graced with a random act of kindness from friends around the area.
Pisano, who was paralyzed in a mountain biking accident almost 15 years ago, returned to the mountains on Sunday where he was met with a specially modified snowmobile, allowing him to take part in winter sports for the first time in more than a decade.
"It was unbelievably incredible," said Pisano. "I couldn't ask for a more perfect day weather wise, the snowmobile was absolutely perfect and I'm totally blown away by the people who made it happen."
Pisano is the owner of Device Doctors, an electronics repair shop in Cooper Creek Square in downtown Winter Park. It was there that he met Andrea Fawkes, a freelance writer, photographer and medical student. Fawkes and her husband, Matt, were the ones who came up with the idea to modify a snowmobile and get Pisano back out onto the trails.
"People don't realize the kindness that Steve gives out," said Fawkes. "I sit back there and I watch him do things for his customers, and support the local community. But nobody has any idea how much he really does. So I said, we're going to do this."
Pisano's life changed on July 21, 2003. He was mountain biking down a trail at Winter Park Resort when he slid on some loose rocks and ended up in a ditch. He broke his spine at the T3 and T4 vertebrae, and was paralyzed from the chest down. What followed was a years-long process of learning to cope with his injuries physically, emotionally and spiritually.
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"I had to relearn how to live," said Pisano. "One day I had an apartment with stairs. Three months later when I got out of rehab they had moved my stuff into another apartment. It was an experience. It probably took a good six years before I really dealt with what it really meant to be in a wheelchair."
Pisano said he spent the first six years of his new life with a dual personality, presenting a confident and cheerful façade to others, while struggling with understanding and daily pain while alone. He still suffers with a condition known as referred pain, a phenomenon similar to a phantom limb, in which he still feels pain in his legs and toes.
It wasn't until he learned to acknowledge his pain that he was able to start to move forward.
"I was in excruciating pain," said Pisano. "There wasn't a song I could sing or a verse I could read to help me deal with it. Finally, God showed me that I had to own my emotions. I had to own what I was going through and acknowledge that I was really depressed."
Pisano was able to work through his pain, but missed being back on the mountains. Fawkes and her husband stepped up to make that happen.
With the winter season dwindling, Fawkes acted fast and was able to bring together a coordinated community effort to make her act of kindness happen, which was easier said than done given the extent of Pisano's injuries. But everything came together last Sunday.
Because Pisano has no core muscles, a snowmobile had to be retrofitted with a specialized seat to support him. Joe Kelley of Power World in Granby lent out a snowmobile for the project, and Jeffery Wilson Jr. and Matt Fawkes were able to make the necessary adjustments.
Grand Adventures groomed some trails and Power World's Joe Portinga led Pisano and the rest of the group on a five-hour excursion to the top of Corona Pass.
"It was such an extraordinary feeling," said Fawkes. "It was windy and cold, but it didn't matter. We put it all together with hard work in a short time and made Steve's dream come true. To see his ear-to-ear smile was nothing short of inspirational."
Pisano, an avid photographer and drone enthusiast, took the opportunity to take photos and video of the trip, and even noted some places where he'd like to return.
"I just want to thank everyone who was involved or had any part in this," said Pisano. "I haven't been to the top of Corona Pass in the winter in 15 years, but to get up there on the top of that mountain was fantastic."
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