Utah man with cerebral palsy and father gain national attention for photo of climbing to Delicate Arch
Jonah Geier loves playing computer games, collecting bottle caps and watching the news — but his interests don't end there. Although he has cerebral palsy, a disease that immobilizes his limbs, he has been on more hikes than most 20-year-old boys.
Jonah’s love for the outdoors was instilled long before he was born.
His parents, James Geier and Carla Zambreno, moved from Chicago to Logan to study natural resources at Utah State.
The couple found a passion in Utah’s terrain, so they decided to settle near their alma mater.
“We’ve always been hikers, so when we had our children, we took them [on hikes] from infancy,” Zambreno said.
Geier and Zambreno raised their older two children to love the outdoors, so when Jonah came along, they did the same.
Zambreno carried Jonah until his feet reached her knees and then asked her husband to take over. When his 17-year-old, 70-pound body became too difficult for his dad to hold, they sought another option.
Their solution came in the form of a website that a friend referred them to.
The product they hoped for Jonah to use was a roller pack, designed like a Native American travois, that outdoorsmen normally use to pack their gear.
The designer of the roller pack willingly customized the carrier for Jonah, equipping it with a spring seat system, footplates and a seat belt.
“It works perfectly,” Zambreno said.
The first time Jonah tried the roller pack in 2012, his sister Laura took a picture that brought national attention to the family.
Laura Geier had recently seen an advertisement for a “Share the Experience” photo contest sponsored by the federal lands. The contest called for a photo taken at any federal agency, national park or Bureau of Land Management site.
Laura submitted a photo of her father pulling Jonah up to Delicate Arch with the caption: "Perseverance. Shared by both the Arch in withstanding time and change, and the resolve of a father to hike his disabled son to the Arch to experience the incredible symbol of natural beauty and strength. Retired Law Enforcement Officer James Geier hiked his 18-year-old son Jonah Geier three miles, and 480 feet over slick-rock trails, and up red rock steps to share with Jonah a worldwide symbol of strength and endurance. Neither Geier nor Arch is deterred by challenges."
At the end of the contest, Laura’s photo of Jonah and James at Delicate Arch received an honorable mention under the category “fan favorites,” and made it into the top 10 photos chosen from more than 21,000.
The Geiers’ photo appeared on many federal land websites and different magazines in the last two years, and, recently, the family was brought back into the limelight.
The U.S. Department of Interior posted the picture on its Instagram account on Father’s Day, and the post received more than 10,000 likes, quickly reaching a national audience.
The photo on the Web is inspirational, but it’s just one representation of how Jonah inspires people.
“People are naturally drawn to him,” Zambreno said. “People see something that emanates from him, and he’s approachable because he’s got a nice smile.”
Zambreno said they’ve received wonderful support from members of their community and Catholic congregation.
“They make us feel like he’s one of us, and there’s a lot of equality,” Zambreno said. “Our priest likes coming over here because he likes spending time with Jonah.”
Jonah’s life comes with many medical struggles, but they haven’t stopped him from graduating from high school, working at the community library and mastering his iPad.
He also pays special attention to detail.
“Jonah loves the little things,” Zambreno said. “He’ll see a flower bouncing in the wind or a waterfall and he points and giggles.”
The Geier family loves doing everything outside during the summer months, including camping in the desert, hiking red rocks and visiting national parks.
And although snow is an integral part of Utah winters, the Geiers don’t let it stop them from spending time outdoors.
Instead, they take time to cross-country ski and soak in natural hot springs.
When each of their kids were young, they’d put them in a ski sled, which is a harness system that connected to their parents’ waists.
“When Jonah got old enough, he’d ski around with us,” Zambreno said. “We don’t even have to ski, we’ll also hike on snowmobile trails.”
Zabreno said the hot springs are their favorite winter activity because the water is good for Jonah’s muscle spasms.
“The outdoors is therapeutic,” Zambreno said. “I think the whole aspect of reviving yourself in the outdoors is spiritual.”
Megan Marsden Christensen writes for the Faith and Family sections. She recently graduated from BYU-Idaho with a bachelor's degree in communication.
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