Meet my neighbor, Reed Zuehkle. Although he excels in several sports, he is known for his achievements as an international ski jumper. So what’s a ski jumper doing in Orlando? To to be truthful, I don’t know those details. But I’m excited to share a few details of his life as an overcomer. Here are a few of Reed’s accomplishments in the sport of ski jumping:
- qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 and 1984.
- won the U.S. National championship in 1982.
- placed fourth in the World Cup in 1985.
Reed’s stats are impressive. But what’s more impressive to me are the challenges he overcame to accomplish his goals. When he was five years old Reed was stricken with polio. Night after night he woke up screaming with severe leg pains. The pain only lessened when his mother came to his bedside and massaged his legs.
Diagnosis and Treatment
After his parents consulted a doctor about his symptoms, Reed was hospitalized for tests. Eventually the family learned his pain resulted from a reaction to the oral polio vaccine. Unfortunately, the vaccine which was supposed to protect him contained the live virus.
The doctor prescribed orthopedic shoes. Reed thought the shoes were ugly and took them off whenever his mother wasn’t looking. His leg pains continued for a year. Polio weakens a person’s muscles. The doctors advised his parents to not expect much out of him physically. In fact he was advised to not exert himself. This news crushed his parents. Reed and his family lived in Wisconsin and most of their family life revolved around skiing. In fact his father, Keith Zeuhkle, won the National Ski Jump Championship in 1956.
Reed’s parents refused to accept the doctor’s advice. They started a daily regiment of exercise to help strengthen his leg muscles. This involved making Reed sit on a shelf in a closet and lift sand bags with his legs. He started with one pound bags. As he got stronger, the weight increased. Reed still remembers his sisters standing outside the open closet door and cheering him on. Eventually he could lift heavier sandbags than any of his four siblings and his leg pains stopped.
Pursuing His Dream
When Reed’s father wasn’t working to support his family, he coached at the local ski club. As a kid, Reed always hung out with his family at the club. Skiing was their way of life. At age ten, he won his first local competition. During his adolescent years he advanced to national and international events. In 1982 Reed won the same national competition his father won in 1956.
Polio wasn’t the only physical challenge Reed overcame. In December of 1978 he tore a ligament in his left knee during the Four Hills competition in Germany. This condition required surgery. In those days patients were required to wear a full leg cast for eight weeks. Consequently, his knee joint froze and wouldn’t bend. Reed had another surgery on his right knee for torn cartilage soon after the cast on his left leg was removed. He spent another eight weeks in a full cast which resulted in another frozen knee joint.
Determined to jump again, Reed spent the summer and fall of 1979 training hard to regain the flexibility in his joints. He qualified for the U.S. Olympic team one year after his accident at Four Hills.
“Don’t Give Up”
I asked Reed what advice he might offer to anyone facing a challenge. He responded, “It’s easy to give up. Anybody can do that. Unless you buy a lottery ticket, you’re not even in the running. You may not succeed but you will lose for sure if you don’t try. If you really believe in something, don’t give up.”
Since his father worked a lot, Reed considers his mother the driving force behind his motivation to be an overcomer. He was glad his parents set high expectations for his recovery. He knew sitting on the sidelines wasn’t for him. Reed knew what is was like “to be put on the shelf,” and he sure didn’t want to stay there.
Most of us will never become Olympic athletes but we all have challenges in our lives. Reed’s story helps me remember to persevere. Success might be right around the corner.