If you’ve ever attended an Achilles Pikes Peak workout, chances are you’ve met Skip. He’s the guy that walks up to you and offers a uniquely “Skip” handshake that exudes warmth, generosity, and kindness as he makes the kind of eye contact that feels more like the physical contact of an embrace. Skip is one of our recumbent cyclist regulars and he has been a valuable member of Achilles Pikes Peak. In his support of others, Skip embodies what Achilles Pikes Peak strives to create, a community of people who truly care and are motivated to help make physical activity accessible to people with disabilities.  We sat down over tea and coffee with Skip and his wife, Kay, to find out more about his story. Read on. You won’t be disappointed.

Skip Ripley rides a recumbent at an Achilles Pikes Peak workout.

A Military Family

Skip: I was born in Boston, well Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. My folks moved here when I was a year old so I grew up here. I went Wasson High School. My dad was a Marine and was in World War II. Afterwards, his company commander started a construction company here and wanted a supervisor so he followed him. Later in 1957, he joined the Sherriff’s office. My dad was shot in 1959 serving a warrant. He survived and he was still with the Sherriff’s office when he died in 1977. After graduation from high school I knew I was going to get drafted. I told my dad I was going to join the services and he very politely convinced me not to join the Marines. Maybe not quite so politely. So I joined the Navy and volunteered to go to Vietnam. I was attached to the 3rd Marines. We spent time in Da Nang and 13 months in a place called Qua Viet. I was in Vietnam for 19 months. Riverboats the whole time. Then I got out of the service and the Air Force Reserves offered me a deal. So I went in the Air Force Reserves. Twenty six years of total military. I joined the police department in 1971 and retired as Sergeant on January 1st of 1997.

Purple Heart

Skip: I was wounded August 26, 1968. In Qua Viet. I don’t talk too much about it. Then, September 28, 1968 we got hit bad and lost four guys in the unit. So I got this (tattoo). That’s my unit badge. I used to go to a Catholic Church and light candles but it never seemed to be enough. Kay and I were talking and we drew it up and I got the tattoo. It helps because they’re there daily.

Kay: It’s something tangible to remember them as opposed to lighting a candle once a year. They’re not forgotten.

Skip: I also go to Bible Study on Wednesdays and a PTSD Support Group on Mondays and Thursdays. I’m also pretty active in the Military Order of the Purple Heart. At these groups, especially the PTSD group, there’s a lot of give and take with support. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve learned that you try and help the newer guys through it. You mentor a lot. I try and encourage them and share about Achilles and Recreational Therapy.

Skip’s tattoo is dedicated to the four men he fought alongside who were lost in combat on September 28, 1968.

Navigating the Bumps in Life

Skip: The first time was about ten years ago.  I was looking at soup cans, talking on the phone and I passed out and fell down. I broke T12 I think.

Kay: They said he had a seizure from a medication.

Skip: The second time I walked into the Map Store. I was standing upright and was very confused. The next thing I knew I was at Memorial Hospital. I broke five vertebrae, two ribs, my collar bone, and collapsed my left lung. And that’s just standing. It’s not like in the movies where you kind of roll. You go down like a sack. It’s pretty violent. I still have troubles with my back. Years later I had a stroke. I was still in the hospital on the 7th floor and Colleen, the Recreational Therapist invited us down to our first meeting (Stroke Support Group) in November 2016. She introduced me to Rodger…and Rodger is Rodger.

Kay: He was really pushing recumbents. He even brought two in for that meeting.

Skip: He had just come back from Huntsman Games in Utah and he started talking about Achilles. We had never heard anything about it but it took a little bit because I think it was March of 2017 when I started going. I went over to Angletech, Rodger introduced me to those guys and they just started helping me connect with services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). I called the VA and they said you need to be referred by your doctor. I was interviewed and they got the ball rolling. It took 16 months [to receive funding for a trike].

Kay: Part of that was proving he was going to use it and benefit from it.

Skip: I kept a log of all the times I rode with Achilles, Angletech, Adaptive Adventures, and the City Therapeutic Recreation Program. The group picture that we take is so important because you have proof that you were there. 

Family Life

Skip: I was married once before and have two grown boys. One is the director of hockey operations in Steamboat Springs and sells ranch real estate. The other one has a bachelor’s from Colorado University in International Finance. I have five grandkids (four boys and a girl). Three are hockey players, and there’s one rugby player and a swimmer.

Kay and I have only been married a little over three years. When we were married we went to Coronado Island where there’s a Navy Seal Base. Across the highway is the Naval Amphibious Base. They have a memorial for the three main boats used in the rivers of Vietnam. The PBR which is what I was in. It stands for Patrol Boat River. We got married in front of the PBR and the guy that married us was a Marine who was in Qua Viet on this date [points to his tattoo, September 28, 1968].  He came down and performed the ceremony in front of the boats. We had to interrupt it while the street sweepers came by.

Kay: Oh it was exciting! We were watching anyway figuring it was easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I was expecting security to come along any minute but instead we got the street sweeper and he was kind enough to shut the machine down and just watch us.

The Impact of Achilles Pikes Peak

Skip: Achilles has really helped a lot. I like the people. Rodger, James, Carlos, Matthew. We’ve got two new young ladies riding with us now (Katie and Carrie). And Pauline wants to start riding again. Laurel will be back. We’ve got a good group. It’s pretty interesting because you have such a mix of people. There are so many people with so many different disabilities. I talk it up every time I can. 

Kay: I think its really encouraging for people to see too what they’re capable of. Focus on abilities and not disabilities. I think it really helped him in his recovery from his stroke too. He was pretty depressed. His stroke was pretty mild compared to most but he notices right sided weakness and gets frustrated over his speech at times and his memory. But getting out there and riding gave him a purpose. He sets goals for himself. He wants to do some of those Senior Games. It gives him something to work for and a sense of accomplishment. The day he came home and told me he rode 30 miles I was like, “Awesome, good for you!”

Skip: It’s been a struggle but I’m very blessed.

Kay: Skip used to ride motorcycles a lot. That’s how he cleared his head and it was a major source of socialization and recreation. It was very therapeutic and the recumbent trikes have kind of taken the place of that.

Skip: When I was 14, at that time, you could get a scooter license. Anything under 150cc was considered a scooter and I had a Vespa. We had our own version of Wild Hogs!

Skip (right) at the 2018 Veterans Day Parade

Starlight Spectacular 2018

Skip: That was my first official riding event. It was fun.  Kay: You had a blast! Skip: I had lights and a horse on the bike. Next year I think I’ll be just a little less elaborate. Maybe just lights, but I’ll do it next year. I’ve got gloves that light up and Monkey Lights on two of the wheels.

Skip wearing his “Wild, Wild West” attire at the 2018 Starlight Spectacular

Current Trike

Skip: I have a T-Tris [of the AZUB brand]. I have a generator on it which a lot of trikes don’t have. Right now it’s just to run my lights but you can get a set up so you can put your phone on it an keep it charged. I’m not that technologically advanced so I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’ve got a rack and bags to carry a blood pressure cuff and things like that. It’s the purple color for the purple heart.

Kay: Whatever you do, don’t say it’s Lavender.

Skip: It’s purple!

Skip’s AZUB T-Tris trike

What would you like to see from Achilles?

Skip: Growth. I’d like to see some more recumbent folks. I’d like to help get some more Vets in there. A lot of the guys, especially the guys in group are in various stages of depression and it’s kind of hard but I talk it up as much as I can. A lot of that is just word of mouth.