Clifford D. “Kip” Crase died Wednesday, August 15, 2007, at the Ontonagon (Michigan)
Memorial Hospital from complications of pancreatic cancer. From the time of his birth in Trimountain, Michigan, in 1938 until his death, his life was filled with a love of life, in spite of its many adversities.
Cliff grew up in Rockland, Michigan, graduating in 1956 as valedictorian from Roger Clark High School, jokingly saying someone had to be the valedictorian since there were only four people in his class. He immediately went into the Air Force as a navigator, serving in North Africa. While on duty in Minnesota in 1959, he sustained a spinal cord injury from a car accident, resulting in quadriplegia.
Cliff credits his mother for finally getting him back on track, and three years later, he left home to attend the University of Illinois, the most accessible university at the time. There he met Nancy Thatcher, whom he married in 1969. That same year, they moved to Phoenix, Arizona.
The University of Illinois was the center of emerging wheelchair sports, the perfect forum for Cliff to resume his love of sports. Cliff was an all-star basketball player in high school and the Air Force, but he returned to sports in swimming, table tennis, and track and field. His success on the national wheelchair sports scene opened the opportunity for world travel with the U.S. Wheelchair Team. He garnered outstanding athlete awards starting with the Silver Cup at the Pan-American Games in Canada in 1967. Cliff held the world breaststroke record from 1967 to 1969. He continued in sports as public relations director for the U.S. Wheelchair Team at the Toronto Olympiad in 1976 after being nudged out of competition by younger athletes. Then he branched out into many related fields as national sports coordinator for the Paralyzed Veterans of America, member of the executive committee of the National Wheelchair Athletic Association, and helped officiate and organize wheelchair sports at the local and regional levels in Arizona and California. He would go on to launch an international wheelchair sports magazine, SPORTS ’N SPOKES, which he passionately believed would give voice to the successes and amazing talents of wheelchair athletes worldwide. He remained the senior editor of that publication as well as PN (Paraplegia News), the publication of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, until his death.
Cliff’s success could be listed for the many awards he won — the Phoenix Press Box Association award for outstanding amateur athlete in 1971, sportsmanship awards from the California Wheelchair Games in 1972 and 1976, Washington Wheelchair Games in 1974, to his election to the Hall of Fame of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association in 1989, the National Wheelchair Athletic Association in 1973, and Athletes with Disabilities in 2006. He won the National Courage Award from Courage Center in Minnesota in 1988 and was a finalist for the President’s Trophy in President’s Committee of Employment of the Handicapped National Distinguished Handicapped American competition in 1980. Cliff felt that his real success, however, was in the words of appreciation and joy from parents and young athletes he met at sport meets who talked about how their lives were turned around, made richer, because of wheelchair sports that they had learned about from SPORTS ’N SPOKES, and organizations identified by the magazine.
“Cliff was such a powerful force to so many of us...he was full of vigor and fun yet so pure, honest and kind,” commented Marilyn Hamilton, entrepreneur and originator of the Quickie wheelchair. He was patient, and listened well. He loved meeting world leaders, Queen Elizabeth as captain of the U.S. Wheelchair team, and his most favorite adventure at the President’s Round Table Conference with President Bush aboard a flight on Air Force One in 2004. But he also loved the hard working, honest and good people he met in all his travels and in his tiny hometown of Rockland.
Cliff is survived by his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Victoria, who they adopted in 1990. He lovingly claimed Tori as his best 20th anniversary present.