As the older sister to Olympic halfpipe skiing champion David Wise, 28-year-old Christy Wise was already familiar with the word Paralympian. But it didn’t get as much use until April 2015 when a paddleboarding accident resulted in her losing her right leg. After that night she would not only have a newly expanded vocabulary (with words like amputee and hemoglobin levels among them), but also some new accessories.
“I now have four and a half legs,” the Air Force pilot counted off. “They all have names. Xena is my computer leg. I fly with her. I do most everything with her. I also have a running leg, which is the blade — you’ve maybe seen one like it on TV — and that one is named Bolt, after the Olympic Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. And then I have the water leg, Ariel, which is what I paddleboard and wakeboard with. I also have a silicone leg, which is made to look like a real leg — so we call that leg Barbie. And then my half is my ski leg — my moto leg — which doesn’t have a name yet. But we call it a half because it’s not a full leg. It’s just the bottom part of the leg.”
|Christy Wise pilots a plane over the Alps.|
An Air Force pilot stationed in Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, Christy drove down to the Florida panhandle with some friends, and her helicopter pilot boyfriend Tim Wiser, for a scuba diving class. During some downtime, the group took advantage of the access to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The friends we were staying with had a house right on the water,” she said. “We’ve paddleboarded in their cove a hundred times. There’s never any boat traffic because there’s no outlet and nowhere for the boats to go.”
But on that night, “a boat swerved into the cove,” she explained.
“I saw it coming, and since we were paddleboarding at dusk, we had brought headlamps with us. I waved my headlamp fully expecting them to go to the right or left of me, so it took me a second to realize they were still coming right at me. That’s when I dove off my board and tried to swim away. Instead, I got hit by the front of the boat and tried to push off out of the way. But the propeller got my leg as I was swimming down.”
Later that night her right leg was amputated.
Afterwards she was flown to a military hospital in Texas, where she would spend the next two weeks, followed by eight months in rehab. The former ski racer said she couldn’t have done it all without the help of her family — her twin sister Jessica and Olympian brother David.
|Siblings David, Christy and Jess Wise go skydiving together for the first time with Christy's prosthetic leg. David and Jess went tandem and Christy jumped after them.|
Before the accident, David (her three-time X Games gold medalist sibling) said he could go months without talking to his sister due to their busy schedules.
“When she got in her accident, that was a wakeup call for me to realize, hey, you need to put your life on hold for a second and get down to where she is and support her,” David said.
With his wife Lexie, David found himself prepping their then 3-year-old daughter Nayeli (newborn brother Malachi was still too young to understand) about how her aunt now only had one leg.
Christy remembered how her niece adjusted to it right away. It wasn’t long she said before Nayeli was “hopping around the hospital room on one leg. She was great with it!
“After she went home, we would talk on the phone and she would ask me, ‘Do you still have one leg?’ When she met prosthetic leg Barbie for the first time, she was fascinated by how much it looked like a real leg. She would tell my sister, ‘It’s a miracle. Christy has two legs!’ And David and his wife said that she has since named all of her dolls after my leg, Xena.”
That family time was invaluable for 25-year-old David and helped the two become even closer.
“Just trying to be there for those tough moments. Because you know, nothing she is doing in her life right now is easy,” he said. “Being there as much as I can has been my main goal.” He has even been there for her on the slopes.
Hitting The Slopes Again
Over the holidays, the two were able to break in her new moto knee by skiing some runs together. The high-activity sports knee is “different from a regular walking knee in that it has a shock in it with a spring that works as your quadriceps,” said creator and Paralympic hopeful snowboarder Mike Schultz. “With the moto knee, you’re able to jump up and down and hold a squat like you’re skiing.”
Dual-athlete Schultz — who is also a six-time X Games gold medalist in adaptive snocross and moto X racing adaptive — connected with Christy after being tagged in a skiing video of her using the moto knee. “We’ve got a couple skiers using it but not a whole lot,” Schultz said. “So I’m always excited to see somebody new.”
David was also excited to see his sister back on the snow and filmed the video Schultz was tagged in because “just to see her carving turns at all was amazing,” he remembered. When Schultz made the connection between David and his sister he reached out “to see if she was going to be at X Games so we could meet up and take some turns together.”
However, with Christy in the middle of Air Force training she was unable to get the time off to go to Aspen, Colorado, this year. But her brother promised to take the runs on her behalf. “Schultz has always been an inspiring figure to me, so I’m excited to connect,” David said. “Now I have specific things to ask him and see what pointers he has for my sister.”
Having skied throughout college, getting back on skis was a priority for the older Wise because “it’s a huge part of who I am,” she said. “I don’t remember saying this the night of the accident, but my boyfriend said I told him I wasn’t going to let this change me. So I’ve been trying to get back to all the hobbies I had before my accident one at a time. This summer I was able to get back to wakeboarding, paddleboarding and scuba diving. In the fall, I got to skydive again. And Christmas was when I got back on skis for the first time.
“It’s neat that now a whole bunch of sports have opened up to me. Eventually in a few years, I would love to compete in Paralympic skiing.”
It’s a sentiment her brother is also hoping for.
“Honestly, it was one of the first things I kind of said to her when we got over the initial shock in the hospital room was, hey, at least maybe now we can go to the same Games together — me as an Olympian and you as a Paralympian,” David recalled. “That’s definitely something that’s been in both our minds since the beginning.”
Flying High Again
For now Christy says she is just excited to still be on active duty and pushing to get back to flying.
“Even though almost all flying is with your hands,” she explained, “it still requires your legs. I have to use the rudder pedals on the ground, as well as in the air. So I use Xena because she is the most capable leg. But Barbie is my backup, even though I wouldn’t fly with more than one leg — I would still take multiple legs with me if I was deployed since you’re usually gone for four or five months at a time.”
Currently working to pass the Air Force physical fitness test in a couple of weeks before seeing if she will be allowed to fly again, she said “I’m really optimistic because other amputees have done it before me.”
It’s OK that none of those before her were women — which would make her the first female pilot with an above knee amputation — because “I’ve never thought of myself as a female pilot. I like to just think of myself as a pilot,” she mused.
At least until the day she can add Paralympian to her resume.