An evening of inspiration with Bridging Bionics
Bridging Bionics Foundation’s gala features Swedish Paralympian Aron Anderson and professional dancer Jasmine Takács
Movement, dance, adventure: The body is meant to express physically and emotionally, and the mind is meant to expand its horizons. So, when Aron Anderson lost the use of his legs after being diagnosed with bone cancer at age 7, he decided to live life to the fullest — and that he’s done, a hundred-fold.
The four-time Swedish Paralympian has competed in sailing, sledge hockey and track and field. He was the first person in a wheelchair to climb to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, to summit Kebnekaise (Sweden’s highest mountain) and to complete a monthlong cross-country ski trek throughout Antarctica. He has also broken records in sky diving, packing in 145 jumps in 12 hours.
What: Rise Up Gala
Details: Cocktails, dinner, dancing, auction and live performance with celebrity dancers from “Let’s Dance,” Sweden’s version of “Dancing with the Stars.”
When: 6-10 p.m., July 10
Where: Hotel Jerome, 330 E. Main St., Aspen
Benefits: Bridging Bionics Foundation. This signature fundraising event allows the foundation to provide the gift of mobility to people who live with neurological challenges, such as traumatic spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
Cost: Individual tickets, $500. Tables of 10 range from $5,000-$25,000.
Bridging the gap
Last spring, he and his professional dance partner, Jasmine Takács, earned their way to the semi-finals in “Let’s Dance,” Sweden’s version of “Dancing with the Stars.” He made history as the first male contestant to dance in a wheelchair on the show.
The couple’s Instagram videos went viral, which is how the Basalt-based Bridging Bionics Foundation (BBF) discovered the pair.
On July 10, Anderson and Takács will perform at the foundation’s Rise Up Gala, at Hotel Jerome.
BBF provides affordable and ongoing physical therapy and advanced technology for individuals with neurologic mobility challenges, such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and more. It is the only therapy program in the community that grants affordable access to four robotic exoskeletons and advanced technologies for individuals to regain and maintain mobility. Since its inception six years ago, BBF has gifted more than 12,000 physical therapy sessions to clients, ages 3 to 90, that traditional medical insurance, Medicare and Medicaid do not cover.
“What they do with bionics and stuff is incredibly cool,” Anderson said. “Imagine being able to walk and do things I cannot do with (the use of) technology.”
Despite his physical limitations, Anderson lives by BBF’s philosophy that mobility is vital to wellness.
“I have a passion to push myself and see what I can do,” he said.
Beating cancer — and more
As a 7-year-old, Anderson didn’t understand what cancer was; it seemed “unreal” to him. Yet, his life suddenly changing from “normal” to spending most of his time in a hospital.
“It was overwhelming and traumatizing,” he said.
Saving his life meant removing a tumor from his sacrum, which doctors warned would probably leave him unable to walk.
“The rehab from that was brutal,” Anderson said. “I had to lay still in the bed for six weeks, and then I couldn’t sit down for a year. It was really tough, but I had the best support from my family to get me through this.”
After extensive cancer treatment, he regained health and immersed himself in sports — until the cancer returned three more times, this time in his lungs, when he was around 12. He said doctors didn’t think he would make it.
“That was just so hard, you know, once you’ve gone through cancer, once you’re healthy and it comes back. I was so much more aware of what cancer was and how dangerous it is,” he said. “I think that’s what’s given me a lot of energy to maximize what I’ve got, since I’ve been so close to not making it. It has also given me lot of perspective. … I’m in a wheelchair, and it really sucks a lot of the time, but if I compare that to cancer, to chemo, to radiation, to getting the cancer back, to not being able to sit down for a year — if you compare the wheelchair to that, it’s pretty frigging amazing.”
As a well-known television personality, social media influencer and mental coach, he shares his experience, as well as ways to deal with hardship.
“I talk a lot about mental strategies for especially dealing with some of the tough times we all face in life, no matter if it’s tough times in business or tough times in your everyday life. I think what really defines how we do in life is not how we do when life is good, because then life is easy, but it’s how we handle tough times,” he said.
As if getting cancer four times as a child and enduring 14 surgeries wasn’t enough, Anderson faced what he called a massive setback in 2012. While training for the 2012 Paralympics, he dislocated his hip. He underwent surgery to get a prosthetic hip, which ended his ability to compete at an elite level.
“Sports was kind of my way back to life after the cancer. It gave me so much energy. It gave me somewhat of a purpose. It gave me friends and physical strength to deal with daily life, because being in a wheelchair, it really helps if you’re physically strong because it’s a big part of daily life. I got to travel around the world and compete all over the U.S. It was just a great life experience,” he said, adding that surgery severely reduced his hip mobility. “My goal was to be the best in the world, and I can’t do that anymore, and what do I do now?”
To fill the void, an adventurous friend challenged him to climb Kebnekaise. Anderson resisted for two weeks, but his friend persisted. Anderson ended up using crutches and crawling up the mountain with his arms.
“It was incredibly slow, and I had pain everywhere, but somehow, through sheer will and setting micro goals for ourselves — 100 more meters, 100 more meters, 100 more meters — we eventually made it to the summit,” he said.
While Anderson knew he was capable of many feats, that experience made him question his perceived limits and break through mental barriers.
“Since then, things have gotten a little out of hand,” he said, adding that his next goals involve secret sky diving projects and climbing other mountains.
Granted, he’s not completely super-human: He did take two weeks off to rest after “Let’s Dance.”
“I have to say this spring with ‘Let’s Dance’ was really, really intense,” he said, referring to 50-hour weekly rehearsals, in addition to his motivational speaking engagements. He still has residual shoulder pain from learning to dance, but that won’t stop him from delivering an amazing show in Aspen.
“They’re going to get to see something they’ve never seen before. We’re going to give them a really cool performance, to push their boundaries and limits for what they think wheelchair dancing can be and do some acrobatic things,” he said about the upcoming gala — the only place the pair will perform in the States. “It’s showing the unexpected. I think that’s where the magic is.”
“The message we’re giving is so touching, and that’s one of the positive comments we had from people (watching ‘Let’s Dance’),” Takács added. “They said they were crying at home from what we were doing.”
Their appearances on “Let’s Dance” inspired plenty of kids who have disabilities, including a girl who refused to use her wheelchair. Once she saw Anderson dance, she not only started using her wheelchair, but also changed her social media profile picture to show herself in her wheelchair. But the couple also had some haters, one who went so far to say that Anderson should be in the circus.
“I thought we, as a society, had gotten further than that, but sometimes you’re reminded that this is important. Looking at Swedish television — and I’m guessing it’s the same, or similar, in the U.S. — there aren’t a lot of people with visible physical disabilities that are in the media. I realized how important it is to show that it doesn’t matter if you have a disability or if you’re a different skin color or different sexual orientation or whatever. Just do your thing and enjoy it and have fun and be your best,” Anderson said.
Takács, who has danced for prestigious companies in Stockholm, Sweden; been a finalist with her dance partner, Aaron Brown, in “Britain’s Got Talent”; and performed internationally with some of the world’s most famous artists, including Rhianna, Justin Beiber, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and many, many more, said competing with Anderson on “Let’s Dance” was the most challenging and rewarding of her career.
“Being able to inspire another community and give people hope by sharing my art — I didn’t know it was possible,” she said. “I wanted to wow the audience, because for the audience, for the world, this was new. Aron is an adventurer. What he does, not even a standing person would do.”
For their debut, he lifted his chair on one side then spun around Takács. During rehearsal, he ended up falling onto the floor, but they nailed the move on the show. While practicing another trick, which gave the appearance of running Takács over, he accidentally gave her a bloody nose, but in the show, it went well. Takács quickly learned the power of a wheelchair:
“Once it’s going, it’s going, and it’s very hard to stop and to maneuver. This was next-level dancing,” she said, explaining how she had to beef up her already ample strength at the gym to handle it.
But it was all worth it; their performances, both on television and in Aspen, can inspire anyone.
“(They’re) also inspiring people with maybe a mental disability to express yourself though movement,” Takács said, explaining how dance can release emotions. “It can be very freeing, almost like going to a psychiatrist.”
One of the contemporary dances the couple will perform in Aspen depicts the emotional story of Anderson’s dear friend, who didn’t survive cancer.
“I hope we can inspire people with any disability that even if they don’t like dancing, it might actually help them in some way to release some sort of negative feelings or something they’re not happy about,” Takács said, adding that through dancing with Anderson, she learned anything is possible. “You don’t have to have two arms or two legs to share the same feeling that’s actually happening when you dance to music. Everyone can dance. Aron danced more than some of my celebrity partners in the past.”
For the first time since the pandemic, BBF will showcase its mobility program live and in-person.
“There’s no better way to portray movement without limitation than with our celebrity dancers, Aron and Jasmine,” said Amanda Boxtel, BBF executive director. “While our physical therapy interventions and growing inventory of advanced technologies are helping our athletes regain mobility and wellness, one challenge remains the same: keeping our program accessible and affordable.”
The gala has the potential to raise almost half of BBF’s $805,000 annual operating budget, which includes its scholarship program to increase clients’ mobility.
“Join us in this movement,” Boxtel said. “Help us be the bridge to give the gift of mobility to those who need it the most.”
Aspen locals mourned last year’s loss of legendary restaurants Jimmy’s and L’Hostaria. But now, you can have Jimmy Yeager and Tiziano Gortan prepare dinner and cocktails in your home, while they entertain you and 11 of your friends with their culinary talents, mixology skills and delightful personalities.
Rise Up Gala’s live auction includes a private dinner with this dynamic duo in the private kitchen of the highest bidder’s choice. The winner will work with the chefs to choose a date, valid through June 2023.
This is the only auction item open for bidding prior to the Rise Up Gala.
“You decide what we’re worth,” Yeager said. “We’re happy to come to your home, put on a great show and have a lot of fun. … Be generous, and we’ll back it up with good product.”
To place your bid, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Zander at (970) 948-2900.
Note: Other highly curated auction items at the gala include: Unforgettable Tuscany with Andrea Bocelli; heli-hiking summer adventure in British Columbia; a week stay at Anchors Aweigh in Destin, Florida; and a vacation in Turks & Caicos, Belize or Punta Mita.
Kimberly Nicoletti is a freelance writer, editor and the editor of ATW. She can be reached at email@example.com.