Uschi Hall is an adaptive skier…and she rocks. She skis moguls, she skis groomers and she rips black diamond trails. Had the snow cooperated this season, she would have skied the backcountry above Crested Butte on a snowcat trip. While she was limited this season by the lack of snow, there’s not much else that limits Uschi.
Uschi was injured in a hang gliding accident. In the winter of 1995, just two months after completing rehab, she tried monoskiing on the advice of her physical therapist.
Although Uschi skied and snowboarded prior to her accident, monoskiing was completely different. “It was fun, but hard at first,” she told me. “I didn’t have the upper body balance and strength. I had to adjust to being in a chair.” But she stuck with it and today she skis confidently and beautifully, assists with adaptive ski lessons, mentors newly injured people and works with two adaptive sports organizations, Colorado Discoverability and the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center.
“Adaptive skiing changed my life,” she states. “It taught me a lot about myself. I realized that if I can ski, there’s much more that I can do. It definitely built up my confidence and trust in others and in myself.”
Something the Family Can Do Together
In addition to personal growth, Uschi believes that the benefits to her family are equally important. She and her husband have two children, and most winter weekends you can find them skiing together. For Uschi, being able to ski as a family is a huge bonus.
“Because of my disability, there are some limitations to things we can do as a family,” explains Uschi. “Skiing is important to us because it is an activity we can do together. Skiing allows me to be part of the family. I’m not waiting at the bottom and watching. I’m part of it. My kids think it is totally normal that I can ski with them. They see beyond the disability and they don’t see the extra effort needed. Skiing is just something the family does together.”
No One Has to Stay Home
David Lazerwitz, a California dad agrees. His oldest child, Noah, has Angelman’s Syndrome. When Noah was diagnosed, David and his wife Alyson were told that Noah would most likely never talk, would suffer severe cognitive impairment and seizures, and might never walk. Today, Noah skis. This season, he graduated to skiing without special equipment, just an instructor and volunteer.
“Adaptive skiing enables our family to do an activity together,” says David. “While we typically only ski with Noah at the end of the day (since he gets distracted by us), the whole experience of going to the mountains, hanging out together and playing in the snow is a really good thing for all of us. Without it, we would all be skiing a lot less and one of us would probably just stay home.”
Insight From a Pro
Noah began skiing at age five with the Disabled Sports USA Far West program at Alpine Meadows, California. Disabled Sports is one of the nation’s largest adaptive sports programs. Bill Bowness is the technical director at Disabled Sports and coach of the Professional Ski Instructors of America/American Association of Snowboard Instructors Adaptive Team. As a coach, he assists with educating and training adaptive instructors throughout the U.S.
Bill sees many benefits from adaptive skiing. “Everybody is going to take something different away from adaptive skiing,” he explains. “For some, it’s getting back into a sport they were passionate about, pre-injury. For others, it gives them a sense of accomplishment. For others, skiing is therapeutic and an important component of rehabilitation.”
Recreation to Vocation
For Bill, who was injured in a car accident at age 18, adaptive skiing opened doors he would never have imagined. “I skied before my accident,” he explains. “But that was purely recreational. With adaptive skiing, I began as a student. Then I became a volunteer. From volunteer I went to volunteer instructor, then supervisor and now technical director. My recreation became my vocation.”
Bill started monoskiing in 1989 on the advice of a college friend who was an instructor. I asked him what motivates his students.
“The reasons are as far-reaching as the individual personalities of the students. Some are encouraged, or bribed, by teachers, parents or caregivers. Some are looking for adventure and want to try something new and different. Maybe skiing is a challenge they want to overcome. For others, it’s a curiosity, something cool and hip, that they want to try. There is no one motivator.”
Just Plain Fun
Turning back to Noah, I asked his dad what motivates his young son. David put it this way: “Even with his severe cognitive impairments, I really think skiing gives Noah a sense of both accomplishment and inclusion. He’s doing the same thing as his parents and sister. ”
“Frankly, he just has a fun time doing it.”
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