Anketell has been skiing since he was a preschooler and has gone on to found his own nonprofit.
Owen Anketell was only 3 or 4 years old when he went skiing for the first time, but his parents still tell the story of their preschooler’s reaction.
“My mom and dad say that you couldn’t get the smile off my face,” said Anketell, 20, of Hudson, Massachusetts. “And as soon as I got in the car I started asking when we were coming back.”
Skiing quickly became a passion of Anketell’s, and it led not only to his discovery of other adaptive sports but also to his becoming an advocate for the adaptive sports community.
“(Skiing) is really something I couldn’t imagine my life without,” said Anketell, now a college student at the University of Arizona.
Anketell was born with hereditary spastic paraplegia and uses a wheelchair. As a toddler, he would walk holding on to furniture or his parents’ hands, he said, but after that didn’t develop into walking independently, he received his diagnosis. Fortunately, his family loved to ski and his uncle had a condo at Loon Mountain ski resort in New Hampshire, home of the New England Disabled Sports organization.
Anketell started on a Mountain Man dual ski with fixed outriggers on the sides to prevent him from tipping over and skied with someone tethered behind him. He stayed on that ski for a few years, he said, because he was so small it was hard to find another one that fit. When he was about 7 or 8, he graduated to a bi-ski and after just one season on that, he moved on to the mono ski, the most independent of the sit skis.
As Anketell approached his teen years, he actually linked up with five-time Olympian Bode Miller’s Turtle Ridge Foundation, and the designers there worked with him to engineer a junior edition of their mono ski.
“I was their test dummy,” he said. “It was an awesome experience and definitely it was interesting to point out the flaws I thought were in it and help make it the best it could be.”
As he grew up, Anketell loved the friends he made through skiing, but more than anything he loved what it allowed him to do.
“It opened my eyes to so many things I’m capable of, but the No. 1 thing was I just loved the wind in my face going down the ski slope,” he said. “I’m able to go so fast skiing on whatever trail I want and there’s no limit to what I can do on a ski. I try to say there are no limits to what I can do (in general) but definitely there are limits in regular life. Skiing is something I can do fully independently with all my friends and I have no problems keeping up with them.”
Anketell branched out to a number of different sports, including cycling, water skiing, basketball, baseball and tennis, which he now plays collegiately through the Disability Resources Center at Arizona.
In 2015, when he was just 15 years old, he founded a nonprofit called Adaptive Sports Awareness in order to introduce others to the benefits of sports and to teach people about the possibilities for people with disabilities. He started speaking at elementary, middle and high schools and also to different businesses in his area, he said, and then he and his father got an idea.
From what they could find, no hand cyclist had ever completed the journey from the top of Maine to the bottom of Key West, Florida.
They raised $50,000, and at the age of 17, Anketell, his cousin and his best friend completed the 2,900-mile trip with his dad driving the support vehicle. He celebrated his 18th birthday the day they arrived in Key West.
“As a kid people definitely looked at me differently and they still come up and ask questions,” he said. “I definitely get it and I’m all right with that, but I don’t want to be looked at as someone who’s different. I want to be looked at like everyone else. I can do the same things as everyone else and I don’t want anybody taking it easy on me because I’m in a wheelchair. I can bike from Maine to Florida. I can ski every weekend. I’m the same as everyone else.”
Anketell started instructing others in skiing through New England Disabled Sports when he was 16, and said he loves working with younger kids in particular and opening their eyes to everything they can do on skis.
“Then they’ll go home and tell their parents, and then they’ll tell all their friends at school about it, and it’s something that can change their life,” he said.
Anketell should know. While Loon Mountain remains his home, he’s skied all over the country including a trip to Alyeska Resort in Alaska during spring break of his freshman year of college.
“Skiing is the perfect sport to try because it’s something you can do really at any level,” he said. “There are so many different skis out there that even with no mobility or range of motion you can still go skiing and have the wind in your face and have that incredible experience. And for those who want to be independent you can work your way up to that, too, and just see all that you can do with skiing.”