I peered into the sad eyes of a 25 year old 6’4”man named Bob sitting in a wheelchair. He had a handsome ruddy complexion and a desire to communicate. It wasn’t long before he told me his life story. Five years ago he was in a snowmobile accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. A few years later he lost his mother. I wanted to comfort him like I would my own son. My heart was heavy when he responded fatalistically, “It is what it is.” We talked about medical science and the progress they were making helping people like Bob and we talked about God and his plan for his life. “You know what I miss the most,” he said, “the adrenalin rushes. That’s why I am here at Adaptive Adventures. I was hoping to ski today but the slots are filled.” I put it on my calendar to be there when Bob tried a sit ski for the first time. Adaptive Adventures provides an opportunity for a handicapped person to down hill ski with an able bodied person. My husband and I love volunteering with them. As fate would have it, Larry was Bob’s teacher. They worked together learning to ski at Wilmot Ski Resort. Just like an able bodied skier, one directional turn can be stronger. But by the end of the day, it all clicked and Bob triumphantly cruised down the hill solo all the way to the lodge with Larry and his good friend following. He was ecstatic about his new accomplishment, and he certainly experienced an adrenalin rush. Bob now has a passion for skiing and other sports offered by Adaptive Adventures. Bob now has hope for a better, more fulfilled life.
The week before, Larry worked with a client named Ted who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force while Larry was merely an E5 in the Marines. This was quite a role reversal for both of them. Larry’s method of teaching was to treat the Vets as though he was their gunnery sergeant. “Turn left he would shout. Make it a harder left turn. Get up and do it again.” Ted, Larry’s client, was a pilot in the Air Force. When he was discharged, he joined the reserves and started working for United Airlines. But during the Iraq war, the Air Force Reserves took him from his job and family to serve where he suffered an injury as a result of a cargo plane crash. Today, he walks hunched over with a cane as a result of being partially paralyzed. But he has a passion for skiing and his dream is to join his lovely wife and child on ski adventures in Colorado.
While Larry worked with Ted, I volunteered with Vince, the gentle bull dog. He was a guerrilla sniper in the 80’s. He talked about his deployments in Grenada, El Salvador and Panama. He vividly recalled a rescue effort of nuns and priests in El Salvador. Sadly, they were all executed before his team of guerrillas arrived. Vince suffered trauma on his final deployment and currently has a rebuilt shoulder and hip. He also suffered a stroke that has limited his movement on the left side. My fellow instructor could understand Vince’s condition; he also suffered a stroke on the same side. As the only able bodied skier, my job was to demonstrate how to ski down the hill and to help Vince stay steady. We took him up on the magic carpet and worked on getting him down the bunny hill which looked like Mt. Everest to him. Vince did fall a couple of times and we wanted him to quit, but quitting was not in Vince’s vocabulary.
Larry and I both have worked very hard in Adaptive Adventures, but the real heroes are those that are overcoming their disabilities with courage and passion.
For more information, see www.adaptiveadventures.org.