Thursday, May 24, 2007

Climber determined to top the Matterhorn on his prosthetic legs

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jerod Minich learned to walk on two prosthetic legs.

"My parents still have my first little set," he said. After he fell gravely ill as an infant and a doctor finally diagnosed juvenile diabetes, his parents drove him directly to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. It was a three-hour drive.

"On the way I went into a coma,"he said. "By the time we arrived the circulation in my legs had stopped. They were completely black."

Minich was 11 months old then, and losing both legs below the knee set his life path. At 18 he studied to become a registered prosthetic technician.

Twenty years later, he feels as comfortable in his studio at Hanger Orthotics & Prosthetics in East Stroudsburg as he does at home with his wife Heidi and two children. In his boyhood he spent lots of time around prosthetists because he needed "revisions," which involved shaving his growing bones so the skin around them could heal and grow back.

Today Minich can lift one of his own vacuum-assisted legs, each with a College Park Venture Foot, onto a work surface and diagnose and repair everything about it.

His disability also made him a rock and ice climber.

"I hate when people tell me I can't do things," Minich said. "I have to set out to prove them wrong."

Though he lives in Henryville, Pa., his avocation frequently brings him to Allamuchy State Park to rock-climb with partner Barry Rusnock, founder of Riverview Outdoor Adventures and Clinics in Hackettstown. Rusnock said at the beginning of every climb he watches Minich study the route and think about what he can bring to the process.

"My friend is a real inspiration to me," Rusnock said, "especially when I start to dwell on my shortcomings and begin to feel sorry for myself."

Minich enjoys practicing a 40-foot ascent on Allamuchy Mountain, but not as much as he loves ice climbing.

"Rock climbing is something to keep me in shape between ice climbing seasons," he said. "At the top of an ice climb, there's just a feeling up there."

In some ways having no legs can be an advantage on ice, he said. His feet don't get cold. His calves don't get tired, either, when he lifts his legs and digs his cramp-ons into the ice to get traction. If he had two anatomical legs, he doubts he would have the drive to climb, or even the ambition to wrestle in high school or become a national powerlifting champion in his 20s.

All in all, Minich said he has a lot to be happy about. He considers himself lucky never to have known what he is missing, to have knees and hip joints and to be alive in the age of computer-aided prostheses.

His disabilities do not concern him as much as his abilities. He wants to really test them. It felt good to place sixth of 65 in the 2006 Extremity Games in Florida last year. But Minich wants to take on big mountains. He wants to climb the 14,693-foot Matterhorn in Switzerland with Rusnock next year.

The only thing holding him back, he said, is money. It is difficult to raise. His double amputation did not stem from a public athletic accomplishment, or combat story. Minich was a kid who grew up on a beef farm and had a tough break. His life, though remarkable, is quiet.

"All mountaineers dream about bigger projects," Rusnock said, "and Jerod is no different than the rest of us."

More: Anyone who wants to contribute to Jerod Minich's dream of climbing the Matterhorn can do so by making a check payable to "Extremity Events Network," a nonprofit group. Be sure to write "The Jerod Minich Matterhorn Expedition" on the check and mail it to Extremity Events Network, 17505 Helro Drive, Fraser, Mich. 48026.

To reach Jerod Minich, email

"Human Interests" appears every Thursday. In each column Lorraine Ash explores interesting angles on local life that may otherwise escape attention. Reader mail is welcome at

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