Mahatma Gandhi knew something about strength. He said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
In 2004, Drew Wills was an avid cyclist and outdoor athlete. In December of that year, while skiing at Aspen Highlands, he swerved to avoid colliding with another skier and clipped a tree, breaking his spine. On New Year’s Eve, he underwent surgery at St. Mary’s in Grand Junction, but his spinal cord was severed, paralyzing him from the waist down. With two children in college and a law practice suddenly in jeopardy, Drew had skied from the peak all the way to rock bottom.
Eager to regain his lifestyle and independence, Wills started learning to practice law from a wheelchair and began hand-cycling while still in a back brace. Upon his release from the hospital, with the help and support of his wife, family, friends, and colleagues, he resumed his law practice and community volunteering. His friends and cycling buddies made sure he had hand-cycles waiting for him when he arrived home.
By July, Wills had successfully tried his first case, resumed his volunteer board activities, and began racing his hand-cycles. He was the only hand-cyclist to enter the initial Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb. Organizers doubted he could make the 8,000-foot climb, but he did, and he repeated the following year. No hand-cyclist has since attempted the feat. In 2015, he set the record on the new short course hill climb that still stands today.
Wills was also the first hand-cyclist to complete the Tour de Steamboat, the Durango-to-Silverton Iron Horse, and the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb for which he also holds the hand-cycle record. He has won the World Championships in Crested Butte, by his account, “three or four times.”
As a board member of the Independence Center, Wills is described by CEO Patricia Yeager as a “gentle bulldozer. Nothing seems to stand in his way. He’ll shoot me for saying this, but he’s a role model.”
For his part, Wills simply says, “None of us gets through life without suffering. The disabled community has a lot to teach us about that.”