At Steamboat Ski Resort, Alex Rudolph is right at home.
“Skiing is the best thing in the world for me,” the 22-year-old said.
He’s been skiing practically since he first started walking, but walking is now more difficult.
“The best way to think of it is like an intense cramp,” he said.
Alex has a syndrome called dystonia – a neurological condition that affects the way people move. It’s a gene mutation that causes a miscommunication between the brain and some of the body’s muscles. Doctors first diagnosed Alex when he was 12.
“My toes started curling, my foot started turning in and after a couple weeks, we noticed that wasn’t getting better,” he said.
It got worse from there for the DU student. Dr. Rajeev Kumar is Alex’s doctor at the Rocky Mountain Movement Disorders Center.
“We have several different types of treatments, but we don’t have a cure for most types of dystonia,” Dr. Kumar said.
Oddly enough, though, while Alex has difficulty walking, it did not affect how well he skis.
“I could still keep up with my friends, if not surpass them sometimes,” he said with a laugh.
That’s not unusual in dystonia patients, said Dr. Kumar, who noticed something else about Alex.
“If you watch him walk forward, he walks in a very abnormal fashion,” Dr. Kumar said. “If you watch him walk backwards, he walks fairly normally.”
For now, Alex is taking medicine and getting Botox injections to help his leg muscles. He hopes a cure for dystonia may come one day, but for now, he'll have a form of brain surgery this summer to see if it can help.
“There are obviously risks involved with any surgery,” he said, adding, “I’m definitely ready to start being able to walk properly again.”
He also hopes to keep shredding his hometown slopes.
“It’s my nirvana,” Alex said. “I love it up there.”
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, about a quarter of a million people in the U.S. have dystonia. It is the third most common movement disorder, after tremors and Parkinson’s disease.