In this race, it’s not about how fast you go. It’s more about how much fun you can have. It’s more about building confidence. It’s more about sharing happiness.
The Adaptive Sports Association’s 16th annual Dave Spencer Ski Classic brought more than 125 participants to Durango Mountain Resort on Saturday to race against their own predicted times on the clock, compete for the best costume and even for the best wipeout as they dropped in a 690-foot race course.
Today, an “all mountain rally” is scheduled with an ’80s theme that is being compared with the Amazing Race reality television show, sending participants on a wild goose chase about the mountain, searching for clues and completing various challenges.
But unlike typical athletes, some of these competitors have some challenges of their own.
The Adaptive Sports Association, in its 30th year, was founded by the late charismatic Dave Spencer as a program specifically for people with disabilities.
“Our goal is to enhance the lives and self-esteem of folks with disabilities, and we’re using recreation as a tool,” Assistant Program Director Iris Gardner said.
Spencer, who lost a leg to cancer, began working with a woman who also had lost her leg, and he soon realized that teaching her to ski could have a far greater impact on her life, said ASA Executive Director Tim Kroes.
“It became more of an ‘If I can do this, I can do anything’ kind of attitude,” he said.
Kroes said he came to the program 23 years ago and keeps coming back.
“There’s something magical that seems to happen,” Kroes said. “That’s what keeps me excited. Somebody learning to ski or river raft or kayak or rock climb – those are the tools we use to impact their lives in a more significant way, to build self-confidence.”
He said they also help build attitudes.
“We’re building an attitude of, ‘Hey, if I can do that, what’s stopping me from going back to school, or running for office, or getting that job?’”
Gardner said the program’s three full-time staff members, along with a seasonal winter staff and 250 volunteers, teach 300 students more than 1,000 ski lessons every season.
At the race-course gate, where teams of five were lining up to beat their predicted time, get judged on costumes or possibly win for the best wipeout, ASA’s Ann Marie Meigahn described the program as a family.
“I think this is one of the best win-win programs that I’ve ever been involved in,” Meigahn said. “Participants gain an independence and sense of freedom, and the volunteers feel like they are really able to contribute something that really means something.”
Kroes said the event is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the program.
“We’re able to show the community members and businesses what we do, and they actually get to participate side by side with folks with disabilities; so it becomes kind of firsthand experience of what we do every day all winter long.”
The program isn’t just for locals. At the ASA clubhouse, Scott Robinson of San Diego, who is more accustomed to the beach, was wrapping up his first three days on snow since he was injured in an ATV accident nine years ago. A former snowboarder, he’s is learning to “sit-ski.”
“Today has been awesome,” he said. He also said he’s hooked on the powder. “This is the first time I got my independence back on the mountain.”
Scott Supon, a competitive sit-ski racer, works with the Paralympic Development Team. Sustaining injuries in the military and in an automobile accident, he said at first he lost hope.
“For the first few years, I didn’t have anything,” Supon said. “All I did was sit around and mope.”
Supon said the ASA changed all of that for him.
“When something is taken away, like your legs or you sight, they give you your freedom back,” he said.