MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — All Joe Stone has ever known is a life in motion, even when life turned a corner on the side of a mountain in Missoula, Mont.
“I don’t remember anything from that day,” said the 26-year-old West St. Paul man.
A speed-flying crash on Aug. 13, 2010, on Missoula’s Mount Jumbo nearly left Stone dead.
“It’s a form of paragliding technically,” said Stone, who admits his hobby was a dangerous sport.
“Speedflying is all about the descent, flying close to the ground at high speeds, with a small skydiving parachute that inflates as you run.”
And now, more than a year later, he doesn’t have a single recollection of the fall, the rescue and his sudden descent into darkness.
“About a month later, just when I woke up from the coma, that’s where my side of the story starts,” Stone said.
Actually, Stone’s story began when he moved from Minnesota to Montana, lured by outdoor adventure. But he never imagined it would almost take his life.
“I loved fly fishing, and bow hunting, and going backpacking, cross-country skiing and being in the outdoors; but flying was where my heart was,” Stone said.
On that August day he doesn’t remember, a hiker saw Stone’s canopy spin out of control on Mount Jumbo.
“He just heard the loud thud of me hitting the ground, got to me 10-20 seconds later and began everything to save my life from there,” Stone said.
The hiker estimated Stone fell up to 300 feet, landing flat on his back at 30 to 40 mph.
Emergency crews rushed Stone off the mountain, and weeks passed with little hope for survival. Stone says his injuries included four broken ribs, a punctured right lung, punctured liver, heart issues, and seven broken vertebrae. Doctors revived his heart twice.
“They had no faith in me pulling through it,” Stone said.
While recovering, Stone awoke with that mountain still visible from his hospital window, not yet aware of what time had taken. A spinal cord injury left him mostly paralyzed from the chest down. He’s now considered an incomplete C7 quadriplegic.
“At that time, I couldn’t put on socks and shoes, or pants. I literally needed help with every single thing,” he said.
Four months and four hospitals later, the care Stone needed brought him back to Minnesota. At the Courage Center, Stone says made a choice to keep moving.
With fierce determination, he defied his doctor’s predictions and eventually regained some use of his hands, an accomplishment that would change the direction of his new life.
Stone knew while he could no longer feel temperature or pain, he could still feel the touch of the wind.
So when he first tested out his new handcycle, he decided he would return to the place where he was paralyzed on the one-year anniversary of his crash.
“I don’t know if I necessarily believe everything happens for a reason,” he said. “Everything happens. It opens up opportunities, and it’s how you take advantage of those opportunities.”
With his girlfriend, Amy Rosendahl, at his side, and documentary cameras at his back, Joe began a nearly 80-mile ride through Glacier National Park.
On an uphill climb, he left his disability below, and using only his arms, the man who dreamed of flying soared across the top of a summit.
“I have never felt that feeling of achievement,” he said.
But that isn’t the entire story. His journey also ended with a new memory.
“I proposed to [my girlfriend],” Stone said. “I did get paralyzed there, I did have a bad accident, but I did get engaged there.”
Rosendah, says Stone’s latest adventure was not all that different from his previous ones.
“His attitude and drive for it was nothing different than before the accident, he just had a lot less of his body to work with,” she said.
Stone just did what he knew he could do: He took a path filled with obstacles, and found himself on top of his own personal peak.
He hopes his story can lend inspiration to Jack Jablonski, the teenager who had his spinal cord severed in a hockey game last week.
Stone is in the midst of starting a nonprofit called Project Lifeflight. The money it raises will help people in his situation find access to recreational equipment and continue to enjoy their hobbies.
Stone now plays on a quadriplegic rugby team, and even recently learned to drive using hand controls.
You can learn more about his story and follow his progress on his blog.