Connie Lawn is currently in Breckenridge, Colorado, attending the Wounded Warriors and Disabled Skiers Conference. She provides these latest notes direct from the slopes. You may also view her previous entries here and here.
December 9, 2007
“This week was a tremendous success: every one of our athletes made it to the top of the mountain, and came down intermediate or advanced trails.” This was from Kirk Bauer, the Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA. DSUSA runs an enormous number of athletic programs out of Rockville, Maryland. Kirk lost a leg in Vietnam but, like most of the skiers and snowboarders at this event, he is able to fly down the mountains with great speed and skill. He is assisted by his hard working project manager Julia Ray, who helped make this event happen.
One of the interesting groups included 15 British servicemen who lost limbs in recent wars. Some lost arms or legs just months ago, and are already skiing, snowboarding, or using sit skis. Their group is called BLESMA, or the British Limbless Ex Servicemen Association. It was founded after the First World War. Their leader is a dynamic Brit named Colin Rouse. He told us that his servicemen were injured together, and rehabilitate together. In the final day of the gathering, the Brits challenged the more experienced Americans in the downhill races, and did a fine job even though they did not prevail. One blind British racer finished the course in 33 seconds. His guide said he was skiing so fast, he kept running up on her skis.
This week emphasized the exceptional camaraderie of wounded and disabled warriors and their ability to inspire and mentor young athletes with disabilities. They dominated the mountains at Breckenridge, Colorado, and were everywhere in the enormous Beaver Run Convention Center. It became normal to see handsome servicemen or other disabled athletes in their wheelchairs, walking around on prosthetic legs, or using mechanical hands. In many cases, it was impossible to tell they had artificial limbs. But, their recent ordeals were evident. Some of our friends were in a great deal of visible pain after several runs down the slopes. But the next day, they were at it again.
A word should be interjected for the caregivers - in many ways, they are the true heroes, and are often overlooked. We met one remarkable beautiful blonde woman, Katie Adams, whose husband Jeffrey lost a leg in Iraq. Thanks to her love and care, and his determination, he has started a new life as an engineer and instructor. Katie teaches other caregivers how to negotiate through the world of social and medical agencies and to maintain the family and adapt the home.
About 850 people attended this week’s convention, and several hundred are from the East. Disabled Sports USA is based in Rockville and many of their employees or volunteers are from Maryland, Washington, and Virginia. The biggest group of 15 Adaptive Ski participants and instructors are from Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort, headed by Michael Zuckerman. Five are from Liberty Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania. Their directors are here, working, studying, and skiing hard. They include Director Leslie and and Dick White and instructors Trippie and Tom Penland, my wonderful neighbors in Virginia. There is also a volunteer from Whitetail and a director from Snowshoe Mountain Resort. A large group of skiers and snowboarders are from Vermont, Massachusetts, Ski Windham in New York, and New Hampshire.
There are strong adaptive programs in the Mid Atlantic area, including Massanutten and Snowshoe. Even if they did not all participate, they learned from the many seminars and technological advancements discussed this week. Several of the Mid Atlantic and Eastern areas hold their own Wounded Warrior Weekends throughout the season, and conduct kayaking, horse riding, fly fishing, and other sports in the warm season.
Some of the most remarkable athletes are blind or visually impaired. Weak eyesight is a condition many of us can relate to. My husband Charles and I skied down the mountains with two remarkable women - Linda Goodspeed and her instructor Tricia Gallagher, from the Vermont Disabled Sports program. Despite visual impairment, Linda is a writer and ski racer. She has won a special North American Snowsports Journalists Association award as one of the bravest people on the mountain. Tricia is a skilled guide, who says she is not going to close her eyes and speed down a mountain! Charles and I tried to do it, and I lasted less than a second before panic set in. But, in the heavy snowstorm and flat light of Breck, Tricia and Linda got us down safely, when we were fast enough to catch up with them!
Another remarkable group here were two New York and New Jersey firefighters and their families. They were hosted by the major contributor to the event - The Hartford. It has sponsored these Disabled Events for twenty years. Hartford says they “focus on their abilities rather than their physical limitations.” Isaac Feliciano and Stephen Halliday hit the slopes, inspired, and worked with the soldiers. They and other firefighters also cooked up huge pots of delicious soups, stews, and gumbos, which they served to the participants as they came in from the slopes, between lessons. Much appreciated by all in the bitter cold. Firemen are known for their excellent cooking.
Our final day on Saturday was excellent! All of the Colorado and other Western areas got dumped on with tons of light, fluffy, delicious snow. Charles and I loved the powder. More trails and lifts opened, and we were able to ride chairlifts which went through the trees and were less exposed to the wind. The Peak 8 and Mercury Superchairs, as well as lift C, were more comfortable than the Beaver Run Superchair we had been taking. A large variety of groomed and ungroomed powder trails were open in Breck. Our disabled ski friends were out in force on all of them, and we all had a fine day until heavy snow closed in. We called it quits in mid-afternoon, and had some more sumptuous meals at the Vail Resorts restaurants. But others ignored the blizzard, and just kept going.
Sunday we committed the ultimate sin - we had to leave Colorado while it was at its absolute peak. The Saturday storm brought nearly a foot of new, virgin snow to most areas. We were picked up early by Colorado Mountain Express (a fine shuttle service) and drove through miles of shining countryside, speckled by pine trees frosted by heavy snow. The mountain peaks were gleaming. Our shuttle driver said it was like driving in a postcard. As we drove down I-70 to Denver, thousands of skiers were coming up the mountain highways. I was terribly depressed and frustrated to leave, but know there are other mountains to return to soon.
One more note on this week - the environmental emphasis of Vail Resorts was evident in many ways. The most prominent was the use of wind power and efforts at conservation whereever possible. Vail Resorts had some trouble with extremists years ago, who destroyed some of their facilities in an act of eco-terrorism. While all the snow lovers I know honor the environment, we are disgusted by such actions. We believe the modern ski lifts and other facilities bring millions to the mountains; most of us could never get there any other way. We appreciate their efforts, and believe athletes and nature can live together in harmony.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.