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Community Portrait

Tragedy helps Combs find passion, determination

By: Michael Kirby, Journal correspondent
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Mountain bike racing, downhill ski racing, sailboat racing, teaching handicapped people how to water ski are all activities Colfax’s Barry Combs likes to do.
Not only does Combs like these activities, but also he has excelled in each of these sports. Combs is an athlete, but the interesting thing about Combs that distinguishes him from most athletes in our Endurance Capital of the World is that Combs does all this on one leg.
    Combs lost his right leg above the knee when he was hit by a drunken driver while working in Alaska when he was 21 years old in 1986. Before his accident, Combs never dreamed of being a participant in any of these activities, let alone a champion.  
“There is nothing you can’t do in this world if you want,” said Combs.
Combs currently works at Boards ‘n Motion in Auburn as a snowboard technician repairing snowboards and keeping the popular Auburn shops rental equipment in good working order.
He also does base welds, fixes scratches and gouges, and edge replacements on customer snowboards.
Combs was raised in Rio Linda but now proudly calls Colfax home. Combs has such a great attitude and chose to look on the positive side of how this tragic accident changed his life.
“This unfortunate thing that happened has opened so many doors for me to what I should have been doing all along,” said Combs.
This is how he sees this life-changing event, talk about making lemonade when life throws you lemons, Combs pumps out gallons.
The outdoor activities opened up for Combs after he had a progressive surgery in 1991 called the Ertl Procedure on his stump that allowed him to be fitted with a special prosthetic leg that functioned more like a normal leg would.
Without pain in his leg from the wooden prosthetic leg he first wore he was able to pursue almost any activity he wanted.
“I was one of the first ones to have the Ertl Procedure done,” said Combs.
“If it wasn’t for that procedure, I wouldn’t have been able to go on and compete in mountain bike racing,” he said.
Combs’ prosthesis Michael Shower in Sacramento recommended the Ertl Procedure to Combs.
Shower also fitted Combs with his current prosthetic leg, a cat/cam metal assembled prosthetic leg, allowing the pain free movement Combs needed to participate in competitive sports.
Since having the groundbreaking surgery and being fitted with his special prosthetic leg Combs became a competitive mountain bike and skiing racer. He now is retired from competition but gets out on his bike and skis as often as he can.  
He owes world champion motocross racer Danny “Magoo” Chandler many thanks for involving him in mountain bike racing. Chandler became a quadriplegic after a racing accident and promoted mountain bikes races in the area, events where Combs finished first many times in the disabled class over Chandler’s 18-mile mountain bike race course.
 Combs is an above the knee amputee so he skis on one leg with outriggers on his arms to balance himself. He raced with Disabled Sports USA for five years winning medals and attempting to qualify for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team.
Combs is now an instructor for the organization. In all the other sports Combs uses his prosthetic leg, and he has had a very successful racing career.
He also is a certified peer visitation amputee counselor, a disabled water ski instructor, has worked as a race official and works as a ranch hand at Wandering Star Alpacas in Weimar.
“I wouldn’t trade my life for anything, I love living here, I’m 45 minutes from Sugar Bowl,” said Combs.