SALT LAKE CITY — Before Sidney Smith headed to an awards ceremony at the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday afternoon, he was out mountain biking with some friends.
The 34-year-old Vernal man remembers a time when he couldn't do that — or go hunting or compete in a triathlon. That was before he lost his legs.
Smith suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a genetic disorder that severely affected his feet throughout his life. He eventually faced two choices: have his ankles fused and live with limited mobility, or have his legs amputated and try prosthetics.
Next month marks the two-year anniversary of the operation of that double amputation.
Today, Smith trains for triathons, keeping a different pair of legs at each location for running or biking.
"I get out of the water, and I crawl to my bike, and I put on my biking legs," he said with a smile, running his hand down the prosthetics extending from his knees. "I love them. They are my toys."
Smith, who often offers counsel and support to recent amputees, was honored for those efforts Tuesday during the 43rd annual Golden Key Awards. The event was hosted by the Utah Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, and Utah Department of Workforce Services.
"You need to be a little comfortable with being uncomfortable," Smith said. "If you let the fear take over, that's where the disability wins."
Leah Lobato, director of the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, said "finding a job as a person with a disability can be daunting sometimes," and "finding the right fit for an employer who's willing to be accommodating … can be difficult."
Four local businesses also were honored for supporting employees with disabilities: the Utah Transit Authority, Liquid Nutra Group, GE Healthcare and Utah CNA Training Centers.
For Cherissa Alldredge, UTA's Americans with Disabilities Act compliance officer, hiring people with disabilities is only half the solution.
"It’s really helping people with disabilities be included in the community," Alldredge said. "So people with disabilities might start to think about what they could do at UTA rather than what UTA may not be able to offer them."
According to 2012 U.S. Census data, 1 in 5 Americans have a disability.
"Disability is the only minority group that any of us could enter at any time," Lobato said.
Linda Oldham is one such example. She nominated the Utah CNA Training Centers, where she works as an nursing instructor.
Oldham graduated high school at 17 and started working as a nurse in 1985, she said. Years later, she unexpectedly lost her eyesight after a severe staph infection.
"It’s really all I know. It’s my love," Oldham said of working as a nurse. "Yet when I lost my eyesight, I really thought that if I was going to use my medical knowledge, it would need to be behind a computer or not really doing patient care."Comment on this story
That all changed when she was hired as a nursing instructor at the Utah CNA Training Centers, a nursing school based in Salt Lake City.
Though Oldham worked as a nursing instructor before, this job gave her an opportunity to "do it all" — from re-creating hands-on teaching methods to demonstrating real clinical care to students.
"They were open for me to do any kind of adaptation," she said. "I have the great opportunity to redefine what blindness means to people in my world."