“Scleroderma took my ability to walk, so I learned how to fly. If I can fly, I can do anything.”
Michael Ferrin grew up in Utah, a lover of the outdoors and of sports. But in 2007, when Michael was 13 years old, he was diagnosed with scleroderma.
“I remember it was football season at the time, and I had a large bruise on my hand that didn’t go away for a couple of months. It wasn’t hurting, but there was discoloration, and once other spots started showing up on my hands and feet, I went to a dermatologist.”
Like many, Michael didn’t immediately receive his diagnosis. After a skin biopsy, he noticed his hands and feet started to get tight and hard, which caused him to lose dexterity, especially in his fingers. He received a diagnosis of scleroderma. In two short years, Michael went from traveling the country for lacrosse tournaments to not being able to walk and having to use a wheelchair.
“I would describe my scleroderma as an aggressive form of localized scleroderma that primarily affects my hands and feet. I have no motion in my hands, feet, wrists, ankles, and I also suffer from chronic ulcers.”
But Michael was determined to persevere. He went on to graduate from the University of California at Berkely with a degree in Computer Science. Upon graduation, he obtained a job shortly afterward as a software engineer. He worked in San Francisco for some time, but later moved back home to Utah to work remotely.
Soon after Michael moved back home to Utah, Michael realized that the National Ability Center was located just 40 minutes from his home. Michael was eager to join the Center’s adaptive sports community centered around training for the Paralympics.
At first, Michael learned paragliding. He loved flying around Utah’s landscape, surrounded by mountains.
“I’m afraid of heights, and at first it was terrifying. But the more I learned about it and the better I got, the more I felt like I had control. Scleroderma took my ability to walk, so I learned to fly. If I can fly, I can do anything.”
But Michael missed the competitive nature of sports and was soon invited to join one of the Center’s high-performance team in ski racing.
“My friend’s wife is a paralympic gold medalist snow boarder. Seeing what she was doing made me wonder if there was anything like that I could do. Although I hadn’t skied since getting diagnosed with scleroderma, I grew up skiing, and it fits really well with paragliding. When you’re racing down a hill at 60 mph, it feels a lot like you’re flying also. It had been over 10 years, but after taking a couple of runs, it felt like riding a bike.”
In November 2021, Michael attended his first international race in Canada, and, while he qualified for US National and World Championships, recent setbacks made him continue with his training.
“In early January 2022, I had a scleroderma-related setback, so I put training on pause and began working with my scleroderma doctor to figure out what’s going on. Funny enough, my scleroderma doctor also grew up ski racing and was on the Junior Olympic Ski Team. But he had to decide to either attend medical school or continue skiing. He’s been very supportive of me, and recently with all my setbacks has encouraged me to listen to my body and not overstress.”
Michael has his eyes set on the 2026 Paralympic Games in Italy. When asked what he would like others to know about him, Michael shared: “I’d like people to know that despite setbacks, I can find other passions and replace whatever I’ve lost. I loved playing lacrosse so much but couldn’t do that after I was diagnosed. For a long time, I was looking backward. Then, I had to accept my loss and think of what else I could do. All of this takes courage and some level of vulnerability. The last two years, I’ve been willing to be much more vulnerable. That’s the only way I know whether I’ll succeed. I hope that my story helps others find their passions.”