Wheels UP! Photo Contest Runner-Up

If there's a trail it's a safe bet this year's Wheels UP! Photo contest runner-up will try to conquer it

Patent attorney, David Nickelson is probably one of the only Wheels UP! Photo contestants that actually read through our contest Rules and Regulations before submitting his runner-up photo of him off-road handcycling through Yellowstone National Park.

The 40-year-old Florida resident had always been an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed running and hiking mountain paths and old logging trails.

Bridge over the Meadow Creek Gorge along the South Fork of the Flathead River. (Photo courtesy David Nickelson).

In 2003, it was literally Nickelson’s last day of an undergrad engineering degree at the University of Michigan when some post-graduation celebration with a few too many drinks lead to a two-story fall from a balcony, landing on his back, crushing his spinal-cord at his T/11 vertebra.

“I never had those life is over moments and I don’t think I was overly depressed during my time in the hospital,” recalls Nickelson. “One of the toughest things for me was returning to places I formerly hiked only to realize how inaccessible the trails had suddenly become to a guy in a wheelchair.”

Like many newly injured individuals, one of Nickelson’s biggest challenges was relearning to do the everyday basic things in order to be independent.

David Nickelson’s runner-up photo shows him enjoying the view of the Grand Canyon of the downstream from Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo by Yellowstone NPS / Jacob W. Frank).

“It was a big trial and error processes until I reached a stage in my life where I had things back to my new normal,” said Nickelson. “The biggest hurdle to overcome was learning how to ask for help for the things that I’m not able to do.”

While Nickelson worked to regain his life and plot a new course that would put his engineering degree to good use, what he hoped for more than anything was to be able to return to road cycling and hiking.

Nickelson soon discovered the work of Jake O’Connor of ReActive Adaptations in Crested Butte, Colo., who specializes in building adaptive handcycles and it wasn’t long before Nickelson arranged to meet with O’Connor for a demo of his bikes.

“In the summers, I enjoy taking off to northwest Montana and exploring the trails out there,” said Nickelson. “One of the years I was up there [Glacier National Park], I hooked up with a park ranger named, Jacob Frank, who happened to double as the park’s social media guy and would take photos of me on my handcycle as a way to show the accessibility of the park. He is the one who actually ended up taking my photo in Yellowstone after transferring there.”

Nickelson credits a lot of his success to his grandfather, Bill, for his “work your way forward” attitude and tries passing that attitude on to others who may be struggling with a new injury or in finding ways to be more active.

David Nickelson enjoys some off-road handcycling at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, Fla. (Photo courtesy David Nickelson).

As part of his grandfather’s philosophy, Nickelson works with a couple of adaptive sports organizations, Moving Forward Adaptive Sports and Dream Adaptive, where he is the director of handcycling events, puts his legal expertise to use helping people write grants for new sports equipment and tries to continue to expose people to adaptive sports and recreation.

Nickelson’s winning photo can be seen in this month’s, Final Frame. As part of his winning, he will also enjoy a $1,000 gift card courtesy of AMS Vans and receive three copies of the November issue.



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