December 21, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
Henry competes on the slope. Photo submitted
Lake Orion native Mike Henry, 42, is a champion snow skier, accomplished scuba diver and avid golfer with 6.0 USGA handicap.
Those would be quite the achievements for a typical man who has a wife, family and owns his own business. But Henry is anything but an average guy.
A snowmobile accident at age 11 caused the young athlete to lose his right leg above the knee.
Henry's two brothers and parents did not feel sorry for him very long, however. After the tragic accident, they quickly encouraged him to make the best of his situation and get on with life. Fitted with prosthesis, he continued to play golf, racquetball and baseball.
"I just wanted to fit in," Henry recalled. "That's a tough age to begin with and I wanted to be part of the gang. So, I just continued doing things like I had before.
"I was a young kid and wanted to have fun like everyone else."
A year after losing his leg, Henry also learned how to three-track snow ski. He joined the Lake Orion ski team, where he was named captain his senior year. (He also captained the school's golf team during his final year of high school.)
His skiing prowess led him to compete in the U.S. Disabled Ski Nationals for three years, winning gold medals in the slalom and giant slalom events in 1987. Henry also competed in the Stieler-Meyers Cup Race from 1983-2011, winning the event 11 times.
In 1985, Henry helped establish the Great Lakes Handicapped Sports & Recreation Association, known today as Michigan Adaptive Sports. He served on the board through 2010 and is still active with ski instruction with new amputees and fundraising for the organization.
Henry also helped establish Special Opportunities for Advanced Rehabilitation, an organization whose mission is to help provide athletic and recreational activities for amputees of all ages.
Not surprisingly, this fall Henry was inducted into the Michigan Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame.
"I'm proud of my athletic accomplishments, but I think the induction was as much for my coaching and volunteer work in helping disabled skiers and other athletes," he said.
"I really find satisfaction in trying to motivate somebody else versus myself. I try to take what I learned as a racer and use it as an opportunity to share as a coach."
Some of his students have adapted the same passion for skiing as he did. Two young skiers Henry has coached have received "Rising Star" honors from the Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame. They have competed at the prestigious week-long Ski Spectacular event in Breckenridge, Colo.
From the time Henry was fitted for his second prosthesis at 13, he knew what his career path would be. He earned a biology degree from Michigan State University and completed a certificate program in prosthetics from Northwestern University.
In 1993, Henry joined Novi-based Northwest Orthotics and Prosthesis. He bought the company in 2005.
"My disability makes my job easier," Henry said. "When my patients realize I lost part of my own leg, it puts them at ease and they trust what I'm doing. I try to motivate them to believe in themselves."
Henry, who now lives in Hartland with his wife and two sons, is teaching his kids much the same lesson.
"I've tried to teach them that there is nothing you can't do if you put your mind to it," he said, noting the family attended the Para-Olympics in Vancouver last year where the boys got a firsthand look at the accomplishments of disabled winter athletes.
Henry's boys also are athletic, enjoying skiing, golf and baseball like their father. In addition to watching them improve their games on the field, he has instilled his passion for sports in his sons by taking them to baseball stadiums around the country, sometimes to watch the Detroit Tigers play on the road. They also play golf together regularly, with dad continually working on his game.
"I'm best from 100 yards in," he said. "I can drive the ball pretty good too, but you should see how far my 13-year-old can hit it."
This Christmas, the family is going to out west to ski.
When out and about, Henry rarely covers his prosthesis, preferring what he calls the "Terminator Look." It grabs people's attention and starts conversations.
Like his younger days, Henry is not shy to talk about his disability today. But, at the same time, he still prefers to show people he meets that he is just like anybody else raising a family, working and having fun when he can fit it in.
"For me, I realized a long time ago this was what I was meant to do in life," he said. "I don't expect people to feel sorry for me."
Indeed, few probably do when they see him tear up a ski hill or golf course.