Life at altitude: Finding freedom from injury

Despite becoming quadriplegic after an accident eight years ago, Casey’s Pond resident Eric Berkey has found an active lifestyle that only the mountains could provide

Written by Lauren Glendenning
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
The Longevity Project: Thriving at Altitude

What: Casey’s Pond is a proud sponsor of The Steamboat Pilot & Today’s Longevity Project, which focuses on helping locals live long, healthy lives at high altitudes. This year’s theme is “Thriving At Altitude” and will culminate with a two-hour event featuring National Geographic Explorer Mike Libecki and a panel of local experts, who will share lessons on how to thrive at high elevations.

When: Oct. 3, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Where: Strings Pavilion, Steamboat Springs Cost: Presale tickets are $20, available until Sept. 27. Ticket includes a glass of beer or wine. Tickets go up to $25 the week of show. Visit for tickets.

Editor’s Note: This sponsored content is brought to you by Casey’s Pond

Eric Berkey moved to Casey’s Pond from San Diego and discovered that life at altitude gets him out of his wheelchair and into the fresh mountain air.
Courtesy Photo

When Eric Berkey was going through physical therapy in San Diego after a spinal cord injury left him quadriplegic, he marveled at posters on the wall that showed disabled people doing extraordinary things.

The photos were from Colorado, and the people in them were skiing, biking and hang-gliding — activities that were familiar to Berkey before his injury.

Berkey, 47, has lived at Casey’s Pond in Steamboat Springs for five years. It’s here where he found a life at altitude that gets him out of his wheelchair and out into the fresh mountain air — often at exhilarating speeds.

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“I lived an active lifestyle before I got injured and I knew I had to keep that up for my health and mentality,” Berkey said. “After this kind of injury, your whole world is turned upside down — and that of your family and friends.”

Getting active again

Berkey knew he would need some help to become physically active again, and he’d also need to live in a place that was easier to navigate from his wheelchair than San Diego was.

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“Being in Steamboat — it’s just a very wheelchair-friendly place to get around,” he said.

Berkey graduated from University of Colorado at Boulder in 1994, and his brother has lived in Steamboat Springs with his family for many years.

“I was a frequent visitor here — it’s always kind of been a second home,” he said.

Thanks to STARS — the Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports program — Berkey enjoys sit-skiing every winter on the slopes at Steamboat. 

Berkey’s friend and STARS instructor Wes Dearborn created a sit-ski trainer simulator that Berkey tried before hitting the slopes to get a feel for the sit-ski.

“STARS does year-round programs for people with all kinds of disabilities,“ Berkey said.

Prior to moving to Steamboat, Berkey also learned how to ride a hand-cycle. It’s an activity he really loves now thanks to Steamboat’s hand-cycle-friendly Yampa River CORE path, he said.

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“There are just so many opportunities to do great things in this town, and the staff here at Casey’s Pond — I can’t say enough about them.”

Life at Casey’s Pond

Berkey is proof that living a life toward longevity can begin at any age, said Melissa Lahay, director of sales and marketing at Casey’s Pond.

“Longevity at altitude is not about the actual altitude at 6,700 feet, but the lifestyle the mountains allow,” Lahay said. “This lifestyle at Casey’s Pond promotes eating better, moving naturally, unwinding and reducing stress, having purpose and human connections.”

For Berkey, being able to participate in physcal activities and recreation again rather than just being a spectator has been one of the best gifts Casey’s Pond has been able to give him.

“It’s amazing for your psyche,” he said. “I look out at the bike path and see people jogging and what not — it would be a real bummer to sit here and just watch. The CNAs (certified nursing assistants) help me get in and out of my hand cycle so I can get out and enjoy the bike path, too.”

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Thanks to adaptive technology, Berkey can ride a bike, ski and get in and out of his brother’s airplane to go flying with him.

“There’s all sorts of great stuff we can do,” he said. “It’s easy to maintain a positive outlook when you’re surrounded by people helping you and doing what they can to make your quality of life better. The staff at Casey’s Pond do whatever they can to help me with things I need help with, and they encourage me and help me keep pursuing my goals.”

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