Lifting confidence and self-esteem through adaptive skiing

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Adaptive ski program in Breckenridge Co

Haley Woodland may be freezing but she’s all smiles.

So is her mom Eilizea.

Four year old Haley has Cerebral Palsy and has just come in from her ski lesson — she’s in a sit ski. “I can’t tell you what a difference this makes in her self esteem and confidence, “ Mrs. Woodland says. “She’s changes so much.” Haley also takes horseback riding lessons at the National Ability Center at Park City Ski Resort. It turns out this center is the largest of its kind in the country, offering programs year round for those with disabilities — from three year-olds to those in their 80s; from children with Autism (there are special summer camps such as www.discovernac.org) to military vets who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There’s skiing with all kinds of adaptive equipment — no problem if you only have one leg or can’t stand or only have one arm. There’s horseback riding, rafting, rock climbing — some 26,000 different lessons given in 20 different programs every year says spokesman Ryan Jensen. Families come from all over the country for their children to participate. And they can participate with them, learning how to help their kids so they won’t always need the instructors. Tracey Meier notes that the summer camps for kids with autism have grown dramatically in the three years since they’ve started. And they’re a bargain — $220 for a week from 9-5 p.m. She’ll be running two camps every week this summer for kids from 8-18 she says. “It’s huge for these families to be able to drop their kids off with and let them go to camp and come home tired and dirty.”

In the winter, the programs are a bargain too — $65 for the equipment, two hour lesson with the specially trained instructor and two ski passes. And if that’s too pricey, scholarships are available.

Young “peer” volunteers come out and work with the kids too — so the kids get a better sense of what it’s like to live with a disability. It helps to break down barriers, Jensen said.

Certainly these programs are growing as people become more aware of them — the National Ability Center has doubled every two years for the last decade, with the camps for kids with autism growing among the fastest. “No matter what your disability, we can take you and teach you,” Meier says.

Take your pick — skiing, snowboarding, archery, bobsled, canoeing, cycling, equestrian lessons, outdoor education trips, water skiing, and sled hockey and wheelchair rugby. The idea, of course is as much about building confidence as it is about physical development and sports skills. Equipment is customized — saddles, hand cycles, mono and bi skis, even a kind of walker on skis. The headquarters includes a fully accessible dormitory and 26 acres of pristine land with mountain views in every direction, indoor horseback riding arena, outdoor riding arena, challenge course, fully integrated playground and barrier free trails. It’s enough to make even the most reluctant participant smile. But it usually doesn’t take much convincing, the instructors say.

Take little Halle Woodland. “They make her feel so good,” says her mom. “She feels really cool!” And she leaves grinning from ear to ear.

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