Lucas Onan was born with a condition called arthrogryposis, which has underdeveloped his left arm, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting involved with as many big adventures as possible. “If I were to call it a disability…for myself it was like a limiting factor that I could use as leverage to say ‘Oh I can’t do that’,” said Onan. “I didn’t want to be looked at as ‘oh this is the one-armed guy’ – I wanted to be looked at ‘oh, this is Lucas’.”
Onan started his career in sports at five or six years old by playing basketball. His dreams of playing in the NBA followed him until middle school, when his parents suggested he try other sports. “I’m five-foot-seven. I was pretty quick, but wasn’t as quick as a lot of other guys. It was a goal that I had – it gave me something that I could work towards but it was pretty obvious I wasn’t gonna make it to the NBA,” Onan said. “I’d spend hours and hours just shooting around and getting my shot down. It instilled a type of work ethic in me to work towards something, to have a goal and work towards it a lot no matter how unfeasible it is.”
Early on, Onan also played tee ball and then baseball, but lost interest around sixth or seventh grade. “I was always the guy that like – when I came up to the plate all the outfielders would move in but then I hit it over their heads,” said Onan. “By the end of the season they knew who was coming up to bat and they didn’t move anymore.”
Realizing that baseball was not for him, Onan continued playing basketball through high school on the varsity team, where he also ran track and cross country. He became the captain of the cross country team and used running to keep in shape for basketball, but quickly found that running was his passion.
After graduating from Appalachian State University, Onan started an office job selling ski school and lift tickets for Vail, but soon realized it was not for him. “I needed to do something different, I gotta be outside,” said Onan. “I worked closely with the supervisor of the ski school. They knew I didn’t like what I did but I did a good job at it.” The supervisor suggested he become a ski instructor but his first task was to improve his skiing. “We got a bunch of free lessons because I worked for Vail and I worked really hard at it for that year,” said Onan. “I got the job that next season but ended up tearing my MCL in a ski accident. It was a week before training too so it was kind of a bummer.” Onan came back the following winter when his leg was healed and got the job. “It’s now been three years.”
Becoming a proficient skier, Onan was looking for his next sports adventure – the Grand Teton Trail, also known as the “Picnic”. The Picnic involves 44 miles of biking, about 2.4 miles of swimming, and 24 miles of running and climbing. It also involves climbing the Grand Teton, which is the tallest mountain in the Tetons, roughly a 7,500 feet ascent. The adventure starts in Jackson, Wyoming.
“I saw a video on it from a guy that had done it…he had a list of a bunch of people that did it with him and one of the guys was named Ryan Burke,” said Onan. “I saw that he was involved with Teton Adaptive Sports. So me being an adaptive athlete myself, I figured I could get in contact with Ryan to see if he could do it with me because I wanted someone who was experienced.” The triathlon took the duo 16 and a half hours to complete.
But that wasn’t the end of their adventures together. This past winter, the two were the first, adaptive or not, to complete the Teton Crest Trail, which turned out to be much longer than the “Picnic”. “It took us 22 hours and we were moving the whole time. We didn’t bring tents or anything like that, we just kept moving,” said Onan.
The trail was no easy feat. Despite Onan running out of food, Burke running out of water, and impending dangers along the trail, the two had to continue. The hardest part for Onan was the end. “It just kept going,” said Onan. “We had to climb a mountain because there was an avalanche danger at the end. We had to drop way down and then we had to climb another 1,500 feet or something like that – maybe even 2,000. It was a long way up, it just kept going. We were really low on energy. It was like a mental state you have to get into and you’re just like – we’re just gonna do it. We’re gonna keep moving and keep pushing ourselves and put one foot in front of the other. It’s not something you encounter every day to have to push yourself like that.”
Onan’s condition affecting his arm was less of an issue compared to the dangerous atmosphere. “Ryan and I were equally struggling. I can only use one pole when I ski so when I’m ski mountaineering or skidding as they call it, having another arm is helpful to propel yourself and to provide balance but to me it’s never really been an issue. I don’t really know any different.”
So what’s next for the 28-year-old? “I wanna keep continuing to improve physically. I’m signed up to run the Leadville Hundred – the hundred miles in Colorado in August. Then I’m gonna do a bike ride that goes down the coast of California – 620 miles in 7 days. It’ll be a big one but I’m pretty excited for it. Continuing with that, I would love to get some coaching, figure out how to do that so I can just be better and know how to train myself better. I train all the time – in the winter time I’m always skiing or climbing mountains on my skis, in the summer time I transition to running, swimming, and biking. I wanna keep at it and keep getting better. I love pushing myself physically. I love being outside as well so if I can combine those two things then I’m doing something right in my mind.”