Marathon Man: Jon Arnow ’78

By Emily Gold Boutilier / November / December 2003
June 21st, 2007
Almost two years ago, while Jon Arnow was on the slopes near his home in Reno, Nevada, skiing down a double-black-diamond run that was icier than usual, he lost control and slid into some rocks, crushing his pelvis, fracturing his spinal cord, puncturing a lung, and tearing his intestines. He almost died.

Before the accident Arnow, who is an ear, nose, and throat physician, skied about sixty days each winter. Other days he’d be cycling, running marathons, or rock climbing. After the accident left him an incomplete paraplegic, with only partial use of his legs, he wasn’t about to give up the life of an outdoor jock.

So now Arnow is mastering wheelchair tennis and racing, as well as sit-down skiing. In October he competed as part of a two-man team in the 508-mile Furnace Creek ultramarathon bicycle race, which he had previously done solo in 1999, finishing fifth with a time of thirty-five hours and twenty minutes.

This time, Arnow rode on a special tricycle, working the downhill stretches while his partner, who is not disabled, pedaled most of the uphill passes. Unfortunately, Arnow’s partner came down with Achilles tendonitis at mile 150, forcing the pair to abandon the race. Still, they’d ridden 215 miles in eighteen hours, and Arnow had even felt well enough to climb one of the large passes. Their ride was a fund-raiser for the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

Arnow has a lot of recovering yet to do—from the skiing accident, not from the race. After the accident Arnow was unconscious for ten days. When he came to, he was unable to move his legs. He spent forty-six days in intensive care and four months in a spinal-cord rehabilitation hospital. “I was bedridden for six months,” he says. “My ability to even sit up and hold my trunk upright was limited.” Doctors thought he’d never walk again.

Yet by the time he finally returned home to his wife and his son, who is now twelve, Arnow was walking, with the help of two forearm crutches. Now he needs only a single cane, and his right leg is close to normal. “I can even stumble around the house,” he says, “just holding onto things.” Even though he says he’s still “pretty beat up,” he has no intention of giving up the outdoor life. His life has always revolved around athletics, he says, and as long as he can get to the wilderness, he’s happy, even if, for now anyway, he’s limited to tricycles and sit-down skis.

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November / December 2003