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Sorrow leads to innovation

John Cummins/Special to the DailyLaurie Johnson has turned a personal tragedy into opportunity " for herself and others " through LemonAid Crutches and her Step With Hope foundation.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” We’ve all heard the saying, “If life serves you lemons, make lemonade.” Sometimes, however, life’s lemons are so rotten it’s hard to see how anyone could make something sweet and good out of them.

Laurie Johnson has. After being hit with two of the bitterest blows any individual could imagine ” the loss of both her husband and son in a plane crash ” she has not only endured, she has turned this saying to her advantage ” making it both her life motto and a business that aims to help others.

“LemonAid Crutches” is Johnson’s line of under-the-arm crutches in a rainbow of colors, topped with custom arm and handhold covers. These unexpected fashion accessories are likely put a little pizzazz in rehabilitation.



Johnson is all too familiar with the frustrations of rehabilitation. On Aug. 1, 2002, she was in private plane with her husband, Clyde, and 2-year-old son, Macallan. The plane crashed in the Flat Tops mountains shortly after taking off from Eagle.

Macallan was killed in the crash and Clyde died from his injuries three weeks later. Johnson was hospitalized, too, with a badly fractured femur.



After two surgeries and numerous complications, Johnson was still dependent on crutches. “Since I extended my stay for two years,” Johnson quips about her long stint on crutches, “I found a niche that needed filled.”

Although forearm crutch makers offer fun styles for customers with long-term disabilities, the under-the-arm crutch makers do not. The theory is that these crutches are typically used for short-term rehabilitation, Johnson says.

But times people who break their legs or have knee surgery are on crutches for six to eight weeks. LemonAid Crutches offer an alternative to the dreary standard, she says.



“As soon as they find out they are having surgery, they can order (LemonAid) crutches and be prepared,” says Johnson. She discovered that crutches with fabric covers on the arm and hand rests don’t cause the calluses associated with uncovered crutches.

LemonAid Crutches debuted in February, and Johnson’s Web site began selling the product nationwide in June. Already, the response has been incredible, she says.

LemonAid Crutches come in a myriad of vibrant colors, including a design that fades from red to purple to blue.

For arm and handhold covers, customers can choose from patterned silks and whimsical motifs to animal prints and leathers. Some covers feel like soft, cuddly sweaters.

There’s also a version in brilliant Chinese patterns of red, black and gold. Some are decorated with tassels and dangling beads, or funky buttons and fringes.

“As I continue on designing lines, everything has to have something, a little embellishment,” Johnson says.

The idea for LemonAid Crutches was born amid one of the darkest times in Johnson’s life.

She had just flown back to Oregon, where both she and Clyde were from originally, to hold a memorial service with family and friends, and to scatter the ashes of her child and husband.

While there, one of her friends decided that “something needed to be done” about Johnson’s crutches. The friend and her sister painted Johnson’s crutches brown, and covered the underarm rest with fabric.

The re-styled crutches were returned to Johnson the night before she drove back to Colorado.

“Just looking at the crutches made me smile,” she says. “They made me feel better. That’s when I thought, maybe I could do something with that.”

The crutches come in small, medium and tall sizes for children, women and men. There are six lines to choose from. Each line has a “lifestyle” theme, Johnson says.

“I tried to make LemonAid Crutches an adventure,” she says.

The “safari” line features zebra stripes and leopard patterns. “Asian inspiration” is luxurious silk brocades, Eastern bear patterns of the Far East and tassels. And “Arctic warmth” is padded polar fleece covers in bright and whimsical patterns.

The possibilities are endless, says Johnson, who has shelves full of fabrics. Johnson is designing “Crutch Wear” bags in matching fabrics ” for carrying keys, wallets or other necessities. Crutch wear should be on sale in August.

“That’s the second most frustrating part of using crutches ” there’s nowhere to carry things,” Johnson says. Crutch Wear will be available in August.

Johnson donates half of all LemonAid Crutches’ profits to Step With Hope, a foundation for people coping with tragedies similar to the one Johnson suffered.

“Life is not the same, nor will it ever be,” Johnson says. “I don’t expect that.

“I have found the beauty again of seeing opportunity, instead of despair,” she says. “Anyone who knows me, knows the miracle of that statement.”

Vail, Colorado


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