Scott Youngs: A Life More Abundant

Scott Youngs – A Life More Abundant

Writing, Video Production and Photography By Joan Grover and Abbie Walker

“One of the ways I have always thought about disability is that no matter what happens to you in life, you have to find a way to cope with it,” Scott Youngs says.

Scott has certainly applied this philosophy since his spinal cord injury at age 15.  Through this life altering experience, he became an avid athlete tackling sports such as wheelchair basketball, tennis, hockey water skiing, snow skiing and hand cycling.  Recently, he even tried paragolfing, which is paraplegic golfing.

Scott paragolfing /picture provided by Scott Youngs

Scott sets a new course with paragolfing/Photo provided by Scott Youngs

“I am one of those athletes who wants to try everything,” he says.

Living in a small town in northern New York, Scott’s accident occurred when he was 15 years-old while riding on an on-off road dirt bike given to him by his father as an early birthday present.  Two days after receiving the motorcycle, Scott was fully suited up in safety gear and ready to go.  Riding across an open field, he hit a deep drainage ditch.  The impact caused a severe spinal cord injury, and he wound up paralyzed from the waist down.  Scott spent six months in a general hospital and six weeks at an intensive rehabilitation hospital in Denver, Colorado.

Knowing that the way people viewed him had changed forever, Scott had a choice to either deal with his disability or become a victim.  It was during the recovery process that he decided to make himself as mobile as possible.

“Give me my chair and I’m gone,” he says of that time.

Even though the hospital wheelchair weighed about 50 lbs. and was difficult to maneuver, Scott pushed himself to become independent, refusing basic help so that he could learn to cope on his own.

Considered heroic by people, Scott played a role to show how well he was coping.  This was known in disability culture as being a “super gimp.”  Trying to handle everything by himself, he sought to excel at everything he put his mind to.  That meant attempting any sport that an able bodied person could do.

“How I lived my life since then, if there is something out there you want, you just have to go for it and go get it,” he says.

Scott on the tennis court/photo provided by Scott Youngs.

Scott in his sports wheelchair at the tennis court /Photo provided by Scott Youngs

Scott went back to school and found that high school relationships were another challenge altogether.   Knowing he was being discussed, he determined to play it cool while wanting to just become invisible.  He had to deal with all the issues and turmoil that teenagers face – acceptance, finding a place to fit in and dating – all compounded by having a disability.  He was able to use the library and weight room.  Because of wheelchair accessibility issues in the school, he did not attend any proms, did not participate in extracurricular activities and was only able to go on two field trips during high school.After high school graduation, Scott recognized that life in a small town was not conducive for a young man determined to not be a victim.  Though he had support from his family and friends, he yearned for more opportunities in recreation and employment than his town could offer.  In 1987, he packed up and moved back to Denver to live with someone whom he met while in rehabilitation eight years before.

His friend was on a wheelchair basketball team, and Scott soon was out on the court with 15 other people who were just like him. Finally, he was able to be part of a disability culture with others who had disabilities, but still had differences in experience.  He could shed the “super gimp” persona and just be himself while around the team and his closest friends.

After only a year, he found out one of his best friends was dying, so Scott returned to his home to spend time with him.  He took a job teaching emotionally disturbed high school students while he spent precious time with his friend.  After the friend’s death, Scott was ready to leave his hometown and move on to something new.

Scott is involved with athletes in the Sierra Challenge Athletic Association/Photo provided by Scott Youngs

Scott is involved with athletes in the Sierra Challenge Athletic Association/Photo provided by Scott Youngs

In 1992, he packed up once again and moved to Reno, Nevada to join another Denver friend who had relocated there.  However, he had difficulty finding a job.  He was unsure if he had made the right move, and considered moving back east to his family.  But finally a friend in the disability community referred him to the Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living (NNCIL) where he was fortunate to find a job.  Through working there, he found himself in the role of advocate helping people with disabilities.  His five years spent at NNCIL were an education in learning the laws, politics and about the rights of people in protected classes. Once established, Scott sought out wheelchair basketball and other athletics. He wanted the camaraderie that he had found previously in playing sports.

“Recreation has been a big part of my rehabilitation and my adjustment to life,” he says.

Scott also became involved in the Sierra Challenge Athletic Association, founded in 1992.  In collaboration with the City of Reno and other partners, the nonprofit provides support of the Silver State High Roller Wheelchair Basketball team and the Sierra Quad Rugby team.  They also make it possible for athletes to attend various sports camps. Their mission is to enhance the quality of life for those with disabilities by inspiring self-confidence through adaptive sports and recreation.  Scott took over the running of the organization in 1996.

A father-daughter moment at basketball practice - Scott with Quincy/Photo by Joan Grover

A father-daughter moment at basketball practice – Scott with Quincy/Photo by Joan Grover

During this time, Scott married and became the father of two children.His girls, Quincy, 13, and Josie, 10 generally take their father in stride.  Quincy helps her father set up his sports wheelchair for practice. While practice is running, Josie adeptly maneuvers an extra wheelchair, zooming in and out of the players dribbling and shooting baskets.  Though now divorced, Scott shares custody and is very involved in his daughters’ lives.

Scott, daughter Josie, and UNR student Daniel all warm up for practice/Photo by Joan Grover

Scott, daughter Josie, and UNR student Daniel all warm up for practice/Photo by Joan Grover

Scott is in a unique position to role model for people with disabilities how it is possible to live a full and rewarding life.  He has struggled along the way and met each challenge head on.

There is no time for a “pity party” when he is racing off for basketball practice, hand cycling, trying some new sports activity or just spending time with his girls.  An athlete, an employee, a manager, a dad and most of all, an advocate, Scott embodies a life more abundant.