‘I love everything about dancing’ | Feature | Chicago Reader

‘I love everything about dancing’ 

Since losing both legs at the age of 19, Kris Lenzo has dedicated his life to athleticism, performing, and advocating on behalf of people with disabilities.

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Kris Lenzo dances at a rehearsal before his performance with Winifred Haun & Dancers company at Links Hall. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Kris Lenzo dances at a rehearsal before his performance with Winifred Haun & Dancers company at Links Hall.
  • Carolyn Chen

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.

Lenzo and his brother, Steve, hand-cycle from Oak Park to Navy Pier. Lenzo usually handcycles about 20 miles twice a month with Steve. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo and his brother, Steve, hand-cycle from Oak Park to Navy Pier. Lenzo usually handcycles about 20 miles twice a month with Steve.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo and his brother rest during their ride. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo and his brother rest during their ride.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo puts his handcycle onto the van in his yard in Oak Park. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo puts his handcycle onto the van in his yard in Oak Park.
  • Carolyn Chen

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

Kris Lenzo dances at a rehearsal before his performance with Winifred Haun & Dancers company at Links Hall on the north side. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Kris Lenzo dances at a rehearsal before his performance with Winifred Haun & Dancers company at Links Hall on the north side.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo instructs Robby Williams in a duet at the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park. Williams, a former tango dancer, lost his lower-body functions in 2018 from gun violence. Lenzo helps him to gain more mobility on the wheel chair. “I look forward to being a resource for him,” said Lenzo. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo instructs Robby Williams in a duet at the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park. Williams, a former tango dancer, lost his lower-body functions in 2018 from gun violence. Lenzo helps him to gain more mobility on the wheel chair. “I look forward to being a resource for him,” said Lenzo.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo teaches the "EveryBodyCanDance" workshop. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo teaches the "EveryBodyCanDance" workshop.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo teaches the "EveryBodyCanDance" workshop. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo teaches the "EveryBodyCanDance" workshop.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo prepares his daughter, Cynthia, for the day. Lenzo and his wife, Sheri, adopted Cynthia 21 years ago when she was 9 years old. Sheri is Cynthia’s physical therapist. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo prepares his daughter, Cynthia, for the day. Lenzo and his wife, Sheri, adopted Cynthia 21 years ago when she was 9 years old. Sheri is Cynthia’s physical therapist.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo wheels with Cynthia outside their house in Oak Park. Cynthia’s cerebral palsy makes it difficult for her to move and maintain balance. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo wheels with Cynthia outside their house in Oak Park. Cynthia’s cerebral palsy makes it difficult for her to move and maintain balance.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo exercises at Austin Gardens in Oak Park. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo exercises at Austin Gardens in Oak Park.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo with his family. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo with his family.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo with his family. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo with his family.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo plays with his granddaughter, Greer, at her one-year-old birthday party at his daughter’s house in Batavia, Illinois. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo plays with his granddaughter, Greer, at her one-year-old birthday party at his daughter’s house in Batavia, Illinois.
  • Carolyn Chen
Lenzo and his family have fun after the birthday party. - CAROLYN CHEN
  • Lenzo and his family have fun after the birthday party.
  • Carolyn Chen

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