From paralysis to paragliding: A Springville man’s motivational journey

Dec 29, 2022, 3:01 PM

SPRINGVILLE, Utah — Life is made up of individual moments: moments spent with family, moments doing what we love, and some moments change the trajectory of our lives.

For Cory Nilsson, that moment was Aug. 30, 2017. Cory, an active cyclist, thought it was the perfect day for a ride up the canyon.

“Beautiful, beautiful day, clear skies,” he recounted, “and I thought, you know, I’d like to go for a quick ride.”

But this quick ride would be his last on his bike.

“Out of nowhere, the storm blew over. The wind knocked over, snapped a pine tree, and it fell on me at the exact time I was riding past it.”

Miraculously, in minutes, a couple spotted Cory and was able to help rush him to the hospital.

“The surgeons opened up my chest to see what was going on, and I was just bleeding profusely, and they couldn’t stop it. The doctor came out and basically told everyone I had about 30 minutes to live.”

Cory’s wife, Kirstin, remembers that difficult moment.

“And we went up, and of course, tears, and lots of emotion and sadness. Just devastating. It’s like slow motion, like in the movies.”

And in those critical minutes, Cory was faced with a crucial decision.

“To have to make a decision on whether you want to stay or go,” he said.

His life flashed before his eyes, and his thoughts turned towards his family and the moments he would miss if he gave up.

His wife and children were holding on to hope as the time passed in the hospital.

“Another hour passes and Cory is still with us, and another hour passes and Cory is still with us,” Kirstin recalled.

Soon, those hours turned to days. Cory kept fighting to stay alive.

“I chose to stay, and it just goes to say there are things worth living for,” he said.

But the days were long and difficult, especially when Cory learned, when he did leave the hospital, it would be in a wheelchair. His injuries had left him paralyzed from the chest down.

“When you’re placed in a position like this, you have two decisions to make: are you going to be positive, make the most of it? Or are you going to be negative and be angry and bitter for what happened to you? I’ve seen both sides of that. And I want to be the person who is going to be positive about it,” he said.

So, the Nilssons celebrated every baby-step, every milestone, every moment they could. From Cory’s first sips of juice, to learning to speak again, to getting in a wheelchair – all moments to celebrate.

“That’s a lot of what kept us going was finding goals to reach. We had a poster board in his hospital room with our bucket list when [Cory] gets out of the hospital” Kirstin said.

Three-hundred-fifty-five days and over 20 surgeries later, Cory was released from the hospital, motivated to tackle his bucket list. He’s been able to snorkel, snowboard, go to Disneyland, and be there for important family events such as weddings and welcoming new grandchildren.

But life still has its hard moments.

“There have been trials, still, since that point. In fact, this past year has been a big trial. I had an infection in my spine,” Cory explained.

That infection kept him bedridden for most of this year, but what got him through it was his next goal — paragliding.

Despite setbacks and trials, Cory isn’t letting one moment define his life.

“I made it a point I was not going to let it hold me back; I was going to take advantage of every opportunity to get outside and be a part of this kind of activity,” he said as he looked over the side of the mountain at Flight Park in Draper.

The flight was made possible thanks to Project Airtime, a local non-profit that helps anyone and everyone experience the joys of paragliding.

“This is huge for him,” Kirstin said, beaming, as she watched him launch from the side of the hill and take to the skies. “It just makes my heart so tender. Somedays are really hard, but we try to create as much joy as possible, and create days like this so the hard days don’t seem as hard.”

When faced with fear or anger, Cory sets his sights above it all — living one moment to the next, setting those goals and creating memories.

“Being able to do these things, it helps you keep going,” he said.

And Cory keeps going. Not soon after landing, he was on to his next goal: getting back on to his handcycle – an adaptive bicycle that allows him to pedal with his arms. It has been more than a year since he has been able to ride, and he was determined to get back to cycling once again.

Kirstin, always supporting him, helped transfer him from his wheelchair to his handcycle. After getting situated, he was off.

“This is more like it! This is life!” he exclaimed as he sped down his driveway.

Cory hopes to inspire others going through trials to seize every moment and make the most of it. Because as he explained, “it makes the world of a difference.”

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From paralysis to paragliding: A Springville man’s motivational journey