Grant Korgan was always a man with aspirations. Growing up, his dream was to become a care flight helicopter pilot. His life journey took him down a separate path of becoming president of a Nanotechnology Company instead. When he met his now wife, Shawna, she convinced him to start the process of obtaining his pilot’s license and following his dream.
After completing the pilot’s license test training, a snowmobiling accident in 2010 left Korgan with a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the waist down. During his month in the ICU and inpatient rehab, Korgan overheard Shawna on the phone with his pilot instructor informing the instructor that Korgan wasn’t going to make it to his test…yet.
“I heard her say yet, and I was like ‘yeah, right,’” said Korgan. “That’s where my head was at, but she literally thumped me on the chest and said, ‘don’t you change a single one of your goals. Don’t change anything. Just keep fighting for what you want to do.’”
With the love and support from his wife paired with his problem-solving mindset, Korgan worked his way through recovery and re-learned how to walk. This success wasn’t enough for Korgan. He refused to let his new reality hold him back from a life of adventure.
Now, Korgan holds the title of becoming the first spinal cord-injured athlete in history to ski 80 miles to Antarctica’s South Pole by pushing himself there on a sit ski. He documented this journey in his movie “The Push”. The documentary has won over 20 awards at film festivals across the country.
“Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is the greatest gift that you can give yourself because life is gonna hit hard, no matter what you do.” Said Korgan. “All you can do is brace for impact.”
Discovering Western and the Gunnison Valley
In 1999, when Korgan brought his idea of being a care flight helicopter pilot to his parents, they told him he could do whatever he wanted to so long as he got his college education first. Korgan picked three schools to tour; Arizona State University, the University of California – Santa Barbara, and the University of Colorado – Boulder. On his way to tour UC – Boulder, the Korgan family happened to travel through the Gunnison Valley. After his mom pointed out there was a college in the small mountain town, the family decided to get an impromptu tour of Western Colorado University.
“We were getting this tour, and I’m like, wow, this place is amazing, frankly. Absolutely incredible,” said Korgan. “There was just something about Western that was so real and magical for me.”
Starting at Western
After careful deliberation, Korgan decided Western was the place for him. He came to school and immersed himself in the adventurous community and lifestyle of the Gunnison Valley.
“It all started there at Western for me. This was the first time in my life that I was surrounded by people who were exactly like me, and we all shared the same mindset. People who wanted to live a life of pure adventure.”
It was at Western where Korgan met his college best friend, Casey McKenny on a biking trip to Moab, Utah. Along with McKenny’s love for the outdoors, Korgan was blown away by his knowledge of engineering.
On February 6, 1999, McKenny was caught in the Cumberland Pass Avalanche and passed away.
“It was awful. I’ve never cried like that,” said Korgan. “He was the brightest light that I’d met. I called him my Jedi, you know? He was the teacher. He was the wizard. I mean he had so much to give. And inevitably he did. He gave it.”
Korgan was deeply affected by the passing of his best friend and had to make the decision to leave Western to be close to his family. Still, he felt a responsibility to McKenny to continue learning about engineering for him. He transferred to the University of Nevada – Reno and met with the Dean of Engineering. In the meeting, he discovered that switching his degree from business to engineering would set him behind. Of course, this didn’t stop him.
“I said, I’m in. I’ll do it. I will climb the harder mountain because that’s the life I want to live. I want to live a life where I make the hard decision and choose the more difficult way to go because of all the benefits I’ll gain from that,” Korgan said.
Though he began his “unofficial studies” as a mechanical engineer through the tutelage of McKenny, he continued his education and graduated with an official degree in mechanical engineering. Korgan said he is thankful for the problem-solving perspective he gained from his studies. No matter what struggle came his way, he had the engineer’s mindset to solve it and move forward.
Now, Korgan uses his life experiences to empower people around the world. He wants to spread the message that, no matter what ability any one person has, that person also has the power to overcome all adversity.
“If Casey’s life proves anything, beyond the myriad millions of things it’s taught me and shown me, it’s that tomorrow is not guaranteed. So, we’ve got to live the life we love, the life we want, the life that we’re meant to live today. Right now.”
In 2019, Korgan finally got to take his pilot’s license test and is now a fully licensed pilot.
See a Live Showing of “The Push” with Grant Korgan
See a live showing of the documentary, “The Push” in Taylor Auditorium on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7pm. Grant Korgan will be at the showing for a live meet and greet and Q&A.
Author Credit: Kinlee Whitney
Photo Credit: Courtesy, Grant Korgan