Next Adventure: Extreme Edition

Total Promotions Group, Inc. President John W. Patterson, MAS, glides into retirement

Many people see retirement as a chance to slow down, relax and maybe hit more golf balls after all those years of bringing home a paycheck. John Patterson, on the other hand, is one of those rare people who, in his retirement, can still run circles around people half his age. A longtime triathlete, skier and adventurer, Patterson, 73, views retirement as the time to explore the world, and help those with physical challenges do it with him.

John and Judith web

John Patterson and his wife, Judith, enjoy a day of skiing in 2013.

Patterson stumbled into the promotional products industry almost 20 years ago after a layoff from a corporate job. “I looked for another job while I was selling promotional products for the first three to four years. But then I went to a GAPPP (Georgia Association of Promotional Products Professionals) expo and realized ‘I can do this,’” he says.

Though his business, Grayson, Georgia-based Total Promotions Group, was small, it provided for him, his two grown children, Shirsten and Justin, and his wife, Judith Tope, and it continues to provide for them in their retirement. Patterson recently moved most of his remaining business to Tucker, Georgia-based distributor Eagle Recognition (UPIC: Caras), but will remain the salesman of record for one of his former customers.

“I’ve just been so blessed. I’ve had a wonderful life,” Patterson says. “I still have two legs that work relatively well and Judith hasn’t changed the locks, so I’m a grateful, happy guy,” he says, laughing.

Apart from complications relating to the broken femur he suffered in a bicycle accident last June, Patterson sees few obstacles in accomplishing his extensive retirement travel goals—although Judith may beg to differ. “For the next 18 months I’ll be doing all the honey-dos I haven’t done for the past 18 years,” he jokes.

The Other Side Of The Mountain

But even the honey-dos won’t get in the way of his passion for helping people with disabilities enjoy one of his favorite activities—downhill skiing. Patterson enjoys skiing so much that he started a side business in 1992 called SkiMore Tours. In 1999, when Judith became unable to ski standing up due to the effects of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, they found a supportive adaptive skiing environment at Challenge Aspen in Snowmass, Colorado. After their first experience, which Judith loved, they decided to make adaptive skiing available to others.

He and Judith approached the Shepherd Center, a world renowned rehabilitation and research facility in Atlanta that specializes in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation, about leading an adaptive ski trip. They received an enthusiastic reaction and were soon leading ski trips with paraplegics, quadriplegics, amputees, and those with brain injuries and other physical challenges down the mountain in places such as Snowmass and Breckenridge, Colorado and Park City, Utah.

In February, the pair completed their 15th trip for people with disabilities. “These are not only trips for people who have the injuries, but also for their family members. These trips help those with injuries see that life’s not over. There are still fun things they can do,” Patterson says.

Shepherd Center Ski Group web

John (far left in blue jacket, kneeling) with the most recent group of adaptive skiers and families in February.

Life Changing Travel

He is constantly inspired by those who come skiing with them. One 70-year-old first-time participant, who had become a quadriplegic after a cycling accident, told Patterson that the ski trip changed his life. “I thought I was going to be looking out a window for the rest of my life,” the man said. He ended up going on cruises and remodeling his Florida condo to accommodate his needs after gaining inspiration from the ski trip. The participant passed away last year, but his legacy continues to inspire Patterson. “Every time I get frustrated putting these trips together,” Patterson says, “I remember the impact the trips have on the people who go.”

Travel has had an impact on Patterson’s own life, starting when he was 16 and spent a year as a foreign exchange student with a family in Sweden. He only spoke to his parents by phone once in the 13 months he spent there. During that year he gained four Swedish “brothers,” one of whom spent the year with Patterson’s family at home in Ohio while he was in Sweden. The brothers remain close and share a love of adventure travel. In March 2015, Patterson joined one of his Swedish brothers, Jörn, a retired pediatrician, on an eight-day cross-country ski trip in the remote northwest corner of Sweden, above the Arctic Circle.

John and Jorn Skiing web

John, (left) and his Swedish "brother" Jörn, during their eight-day circumnavigation of Kebnekaise, the highest mountain in Sweden.

“We had no electricity, no heat, no running water, no internet; we were completely off the grid skiing hut to hut,” Patterson says. They carried all their supplies and food with them in 36-pound backpacks and didn’t shower for eight days. “It was grueling, harrowing, scary, and took a lot of effort and endurance. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was a trip of a lifetime.”

John's Charity Bike Ride 2

Patterson at a 2014 charity bike ride at the National Ability Center in Utah.

Patterson’s idea of a trip of a lifetime might differ from less adventurous travelers. He’s the type of guy who reminisces fondly about his 5,000-mile solo driving and camping trip to take part in a charity bike ride in Utah in 2014 that raised funds for the National Ability Center

No Slowing Down

In his spare time during retirement, Patterson hopes to travel to the maritime provinces in Canada, the national parks in the Southwest and go on a European river cruise. And that’s just for starters. “My goal is to take Judith to all the places we’ve talked about. But if I win the lottery, I’m going to Antarctica.”

He’ll have to squeeze all that retirement travel in around his duties as president of his homeowner’s association, his role singing in a local choir and his frequent efforts to help his older neighbors by giving rides to medical appointments in the city.

“How did I ever have time to work?” he laughs.