From Inspired to Inspiring
How One Ambassador For Adaptive Skiing Found His Purpose
Backcountry partners with the National Ability Center (NAC) around our shared mission of breaking down barriers to the outdoors. Based in Park City, Utah, the NAC empowers individuals of all abilities from across the globe through outdoor recreation. To support their work, we feature stories about adaptive athletes and serve as an outfitter of NAC athletes and guides.
In 2016, Liam Wagner was in a motorcycle accident that caused a spinal cord injury and paralysis, which led him to his current passion: adaptive skiing. Now Liam is a monoskier and Kelly Brush Foundation Ambassador, who recently trained with the National Ability Center’s High Performance Team. As a Kelly Brush Foundation Ambassador, Liam is on a mission to raise awareness about the spinal cord injured community.
How did you discover and get involved with monoski racing and the NAC?
I was watching one of their High Performance athletes make huge strides in just one year. That athlete’s name is Logan Knowles: a skier with cerebral palsy that has defied the odds and inspires me every day.
In January 2021, I travelled to Park City to train with the NAC’s competition team and High Performance coach, Erik Leirfallom, learning the ins-and-outs of adaptive alpine racing. Life as a paraplegic can be difficult, and the whole trip really pushed my limits. I never thought it would be possible to drive cross country on my own. But with the connections I’ve made within the spinal cord injured community, and the help from the NAC staff, I developed a plan. I loaded up my car with three suitcases, my monoski, and my wheelchair. I traveled like this for 9,000 miles this season! The opportunities the NAC have provided me with go far beyond skiing. I learned just how much I was capable of, and I will be forever grateful.
What are some of your long-term goals as a ski racer and athlete?
Long term I hope to become one of the top ten monoski racers in the country (in at least one category).
Tell us a little about your role as an ambassador at the Kelly Brush Foundation, where their mission is to inspire and empower people with spinal cord injuries to lead active and engaged lives. How did you come to join this community?
After discovering monoskiing, I wanted my own equipment—but the ski I wanted cost $8,700. A friend referred me to Kelly Brush and two months after applying for a grant I had $4,000 towards my new ski! Once fully equipped, I flew out to Breckenridge, CO, for a race camp. I met Kelly Brush, her husband, Zeke, and the program director, Greg Durso. We kept in touch and I traveled there frequently for camp/monoski clinics. In March 2020, they asked me to become one of their first ambassadors.
Part of my role as an ambassador is to set and achieve my personal goals within adaptive sports. I also serve as a panelist on the grant review committee. I help read through and evaluate applications for assistance with adaptive recreation, equipment, and more, all sent in by people with spinal cord injuries. I cannot tell you what an honor both roles are to me. My love for the Kelly Brush Foundation is hard to put into words. In the two years I’ve known them they have had one of the biggest impacts on my life. I don’t know where I would be without them.
“To think, just four and a half years after my injury, I would set this goal and achieve it—I get goosebumps talking about it!”
You nominated your brother Erik for the National Ability Center’s Salute Your Heroes program. Give us the scoop on your relationship with your brother and why you nominated him.
My brother and I have always had your standard “older brother, younger brother” dynamic. As the younger brother, I am supposed to annoy him as much as possible and I’m extremely good at the job! Aside from that, he knows I love him and appreciate everything he has done for me. He watched me become paralyzed in 2016, while we were riding our motorcycles, and from that day, his mission has been to help me “get back on my feet.” I nominated my brother because he can go out as a police officer, put his life in danger, and then come home and still have enough energy to think, “How can I help Liam out?” I appreciate him more than he’ll ever know and I thought the NAC’s Salute Your Hero competition was the perfect opportunity to do something nice for him.
In 2020, you decided you were going to walk a mile. Did you make your goal? Do you have a new one?
I did! Last September, I decided to walk a mile with my braces and crutches to raise awareness for the Kelly Brush Foundation and the spinal cord injured community as a whole. My community in Binghamton, NY, and I raised over $13,700 that day for KBF. I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life. About 100 of my friends and family and I marched side by side. It was unfathomable. To think, just four and a half years after my injury, I would set this goal and achieve it—I get goosebumps talking about it!
You’re a big motorcycle and car fan. Do you still get out to watch or ride?
I am a huge gear head! My father and I have always worked on projects together and we set off on a pretty monumental one about seven months after my injury. We decided to build a trike out of a Harley Davidson, and we also wanted to make a mount for my wheelchair so I could be as independent as possible.
“The opportunities the NAC have provided me with go far beyond skiing. I learned just how much I was capable of, and I will be forever grateful.”
What are the three favorite things in your gear closet right now and why?
My monoski, of course! Aside from that, my Stokli race skis are absolutely incredible. They were a gift from someone involved with the company and I could not be more grateful. The third would have to be my new ski bag/backpack. It’s massive and I can finally fit all my gear into one thing!
When you’re not skiing, how else do you enjoy getting outside?
I actually just ordered my new handcycle from Top End! I am beyond excited. The Kelly Brush Foundation also paid for just about the whole thing! This will be my first handcycle, so I have a lot to learn about them. Luckily, my father was immensely involved in our local cycling community and can definitely turn a wrench on one, so he will be able to show me the ropes.