Double-amputee teams up with Mission Senior Living for Reno-Tahoe Odyssey

Jonah Vandever participates in the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey Relay earlier this month.

Jonah Vandever participates in the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey Relay earlier this month.

It was an unusual pairing for the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey Relay. Jonah Vandever, a 20-year-old double amputee who’s attending college and dreaming of becoming a motivational speaker, and team members from Mission Senior Living, an organization that operates assisted living and memory care communities.

“Jonah’s story inspired us, said Sarah Green, fellow team member and MSL’s vice president of operations. “We wanted to share Jonah’s strong spirit and determination with the community in hopes of raising awareness of his personal cause: to raise money for computerized knees, legs, and feet.”

Jonah was the first and only hand-cyclist to participate in the two-day relay. His time: 4.8 miles and 38 minutes on June 1 and 5.4 miles in 52 minutes on June 2.

His motto, “I don’t have legs, so what?” has driven Jonah to live life with gusto. “Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you should stop doing what you’ve always wanted to do,” he said.

For Jonah, computerized knees are a necessity, not a luxury. He’s been growing out of and wearing out prosthetics since he was 18 months old, when doctors amputated his legs above the knee.

Mechanical knees take a physical toll and have caused injury to Jonah’s back. Computerized knees, while more costly, can safely support Jonah’s physically active lifestyle, but his insurance refuses to cover the cost. The computerized knees and legs he’s currently using were donated by U.S. Marines and customized for him by Hangers Clinic in Reno. There’s about 4-5 month shelf-life left, Jonah explained, and the warranty has expired.

According to Jonah’s mother, Steffini, Jonah was a “chocolate mess” when he was born. So sweet and always happy, she said, but he was born with inverted knees, clubbed feet and a missing forehead. Jonah’s endured 33 surgeries in his lifetime, but his disability doesn’t stop him from living an adventurous and exciting life.

“The doctors said he’d never walk,” Steffini said. “With stitches still in the bottom of his stumps after his legs were amputated, he ran across the living room floor. He’s been running ever since.”

Jonah is the only one in the world to Alpine ski upright. He won a gold medal at a skiing event in Massachusetts when he was 13 years old. At 7, Jonah participated in his first triathlon, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) San Diego Triathlon Challenge, and met the late Robin Williams. The pair bonded and had planned to team up for the 2015 triathlon before the comedian’s passing. For six years in Breckenridge, Colo., Jonah participated in a skiing program with soldiers returning from Iraq, and shared his story to encourage them there’s more to life after limb loss.

Jonah is a student at Truckee Meadows Community College and plans to use his story to motivate others. “My goal is to travel the world and bring hope to the hopeless and show the world that there is nothing that can stop us from achieving greatness and living a fulfilled life, not physical disabilities, deformities ... not even missing limbs.”

To learn more about Jonah’s story or donate to support his cause, visit


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