In 1979, when Oak Park resident Kris Lenzo was a 19-year-old college sophomore, an accident at his summer job put him in the ICU for two weeks, sick with a high fever. Two weeks later, both of his legs had to be amputated.
Lenzo, an athlete who at the age of 16 had biked 1,600 miles from Detroit to New Hampshire to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, didn’t think he’d ever play sports again. But he immediately threw himself into intensive physical therapy and wheeled around his home every day to build up his body. One month after leaving the hospital, he was able to play on the basketball court again. The following year, he began training to become a wheelchair racer and since then has won several national championships in distances from 100 to 1,500 meters in wheelchair track and field.
In 2003, Lenzo participated in a dance featuring people with disabilities, and that was when he transitioned from being an athlete to a performer. “I love everything about dancing—the people, the collaboration, and the whole creative process,” he says.
In a dance piece called “Family Ties”—his most recent work with Oak Park’s Grit Dance Company—he and his dancing partner, Diane VanDerhei, conveyed the importance of being supportive and taking care of each other.
Since 2005, he’s been coaching at the Everybody Can Dance workshop in Oak Park, where both disabled and nondisabled participants collaborate to explore their bodies and movement. He believes dancing is beneficial for both physical and mental well-being.
Now 59, Lenzo is an athlete, dancer, coach, father of five, grandfather of five, and husband as well as an advocate for people with disabilities of all kinds. v