Standing Up To Disability: The Tale of A Paddling Amputee

There's not a lot that can stop Greg Crouse from being a competitive athlete. Not even the loss of his leg. Photo courtesy of Greg Crouse
There’s not a lot that can stop Greg Crouse from being a competitive athlete. Not even the loss of his leg. Photo: Cody Silvester

Standing Up To Disability: The Tale of A Paddling Amputee

By Rebecca Parsons

Standup paddling can be a challenging sport. Especially if you can't stand up.

Greg Crouse was the definition of an athlete: baseball, swimming, soccer, football. You name it, he played it. Years of team sports instilled in Crouse a love for competition and a fondness for the camaraderie associated with it, leading him to join the military in 1986. While serving overseas Crouse was hit by a drunk driver. His leg was mangled, broken in four places, and his stomach burst. Doctors claimed his years of athletics and his state of physical fitness were ultimately what saved his life. Although his life was spared, his left leg was not. It was amputated just below the knee.

In an instant, Crouse's world was turned upside down. Once a serious athlete, Crouse returned home from the military to find himself with no job and no direction.

"I kind of lost my way," Crouse admits. "I had a period where I fell off the deep end, kind of fell off the map for six, seven years."

Luckily, he found his way back.

Once an athlete, always an athlete, Crouse began to feel normal again through sports. First hand cycling, then weight lifting, and eventually water sports in the form of canoeing.

"That's where I blossomed and became the whole me again," Crouse says.

Crouse competed in outrigger canoe for a few years before he found SUP. Photo: Cody Silvester
Crouse competed in outrigger canoe for a few years before he found SUP. Photo courtesy of Greg Crouse

Crouse traveled the world, competing on the national level for adaptive canoeing against able-bodied people. In 2010 the first Paralympics team was established and Crouse proudly represented the US. Since then Crouse has brought home many wins and has been ranked the top US paddler in recent years.

An avid water athlete, Crouse recognized the potential of standup paddling as an amazing cross training workout. But with his inability to stand, Crouse had long since categorized it as a sport in which he would be unable to participate in. That was until he met Kawika Watt.

At a SUP event in San Diego, Crouse was introduced to Watt and his Onit Ability Board System. Essentially it's a SUP board with two outriggers and a wheelchair secured to it, making the SUP deck virtually impossible to flip. Crouse agreed to give the board a try and was immediately sold. He now had another sport to tack onto his ever-growing list.

As he grew more comfortable, Crouse removed the outriggers for increased speed. He started entering races and was quickly welcomed into the SUP community.

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After spending some times on the adaptive board, Crouse was able to lose the outriggers and streamline his paddling. Photo: Cody Silvester

"Once I found a way that I could sit down and compete at a high level against able-bodied people and be accepted as a SUP racer, not an adaptive, handicapped, or a limited racer, but as an equal racer, I found a huge love for it as a sport."

Crouse now splits his time between SUP and canoeing, loving how the two compliment each other.

If you met Crouse today you'd probably describe him as motivated, healthy, and most definitely stoked. And you'd be spot on. But in the seven years following his accident, Crouse was anything but that. And he hasn't forgotten.

"I did not have a positive outlook, I didn't know where I was going or how to get there. I had no one talking to me about the future I just heard 'Okay, you're done with the military, goodbye.'"

Crouse doesn't want other people to go through it alone. He now does a lot of motivational speaking, talking to veterans, foster kids, and anybody willing to listen. He has a big heart and is passionate about helping others through his experience. He took a stand, turning a negative into a positive, and his life has never been the same.

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Photo courtesy of Greg Crouse
Photo: Cody Silvester