An hour later, walking into Sloane Kettering Cancer Center it hit home. The relative I was visiting - hospitalized with cancer - was asleep after a leg and hip amputation. While she had already been using a scooter and modified van for several years I couldn’t help but wonder what life would look like in the future. Could she, well, defy the odds?
Days later, walking the tarmac at Hartford Brainard Airport in Connecticut I saw another individual with significant handicaps. This fellow, with forearm crutches, struggled to move around a plane as his legs dangled awkwardly. Finally, he lowered himself to the ground as he crawled to untie the mooring ropes holding his plane in place. The effort he expended was stunning. Clearly his legs were severely compromised. Finally, he tossed the crutches in the plane and hauled himself into the pilot’s seat.
Alone, he cranked the engine. He was off.
Whether it’s on the mountain, or flying to the mountains, there are some folks who defy the odds. This is a glimpse into that world.
Fortunately adaptive sports programs at resorts like Mount Snow boast numerous opportunities to help people look beyond their limits. While it is clear that there are numerous skiers with physical limitations – physical disabilities – these programs help change a world view.
Sitting in Sloane Kettering Center in a gown, surgical gloves, and mask to help protect my dear relative, all this swirled in my mind.
On the mountain life is more hopeful. Sure, one skier’s movements are not as graceful as another’s. Another has modified equipment. Still, they are grinning. The snow is good. The sky clear. And many of these skiers enjoy skiing in a wonderful way. Frankly, while one might lack graceful movements, many are striking in determination.
Watching a young skier with disabilities late last winter, what was most impressive was their spirit. I saw indomitable spirit. For those not up to date on the kind of skiing options open to athletes with a range of physical (as well as emotional and intellectual) challenges, it may be helpful to know that there are mountains of possibilities. As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest who survive, nor the most intelligent, but those who can adapt to change.”
In an Olympic year it is worth noting that in many respects, the US Disabled Ski Team may best reflect the fact that families with members with physical disabilities can enjoy elite, world-class competition. In fact, these skiers enjoy international competition.
“I think it gives people an opportunity to do what everyone else does!” notes one adaptive skier. “We are all adaptive skiers, but the approach we take for some to be successful may be slightly different but ultimately the goal is the same: Having fun, being part of a social activity, and the camaraderie.”
At first glance, some folks see the disabilities. I also found it’s tough not to see the smiles. And hear the laughter. Sure, I’ve seen leg braces. And wheelchairs. But, I’ve also viewed a zest for life.
“I can’t run but I can fly out there,” exclaims one woman. “It’s a freedom from everyday existence of living with a disability. I don’t feel disabled on the hill. I can’t walk up stairs very well but I can ski!”
If you need proof that these programs are valuable, and fun, simply look at the faces of the young physically challenged skiers. The smiles I saw could light up the world.
“It is not the strongest body or the most dazzling mind that counts. It is the invincible spirit which overcomes all handicaps. For without this spirit, winning medals is empty. But with it, there is no defeat.”
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Contributing columnist Tony Crespi has served as both a ski school trainer and development team coach. His column is published throughout the season.