Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Falling (Back) In Love with Skiing

Yes, I know this post isn’t about running or local beer. But it is about being active, creating new challenges, and building community. And setting the most ambitious goal to date: making the US Disabled Alpine Ski Team with an even higher goal of skiing in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics.

The same year I was diagnosed with my eye disease (11 yo) my family took up skiing because doctors told my parents I could always ski-with or without sight. We jumped right in and skied almost every weekend and spent a number of holidays and school vacations on the slopes. We were the quintessential “weekend warriors” and I fell in love with skiing so much so that I took a year off of college to live, work, and ski at Sunday River Mountain in Maine for an entire season. I was immediately humbled by the hardcore, mostly local, skiers and began chasing them all over the mountain and sometimes through the woods (pre-Glades). That year I logged 100+ days including 44 straight!

However, as my vision continued to decrease (I currently have about a 5% visual field so similar to looking through a paper towel roll) so did the joy of skiing. I enjoyed the social aspect of skiing with friends and family (especially seeing my 7-yo have so much fun) and being outdoors. But the need to ski slower and constant concern about running into someone or something was always weighing on me.

All this changed in February 2015. I attended a United State Association of BlindAthletes (USABA)  and Vermont AdaptiveSki & Sports weekend for people who are blind/visually impaired (B/VI). I was matched with a trio of talented sighted guides and after the second or third run something started to creep back into me. I could ski hard, make whatever turns I wanted to, all while being safe due to the sighted guides. I left the mountain that day with renewed excitement for the next day.

Three fabulous guides at Vermont Adaptive & PICO Mountain

My family and I skied all over MA and NH the next two months and I visited a handful of adaptive ski programs-all which are AMAZING. I also skied in two Diana Golden Races (thank you George & New England Handicap Sports Association), which is specific for adaptive skiers. I also had the pleasure of meeting and skiing with U.S. Disabled Team members and coaches, including Para-Olympian DanelleUmstead and her husband/guide Rob (really great people) who gave me positive (and valuable constructive) feedback. I definitely caught the ski racing bug and my competitive nature began to kick in.

Diana Golden starting gate at Gunstock Mountain.

So I’m taking the step to compete on a more national level. My plan is to ski in a few national races this coming season (‘15/’16) and the next with a goal to make the U.S Disabled Ski Team the second year then get selected to compete in the 2018 Paralympics! There are many talented skiers who are visually impaired on the national circuit so I have two plus years of hard work. I need to train, learn how to race, and condition my mind and body for a full ski season. I just signed up for a fall 100K ultra-marathon so that should keep my legs in shape! But I’m confident that my strong skiing background, level of fitness due to running marathons, and with more racing experience and coaching I can compete.  I am also VERY thankful that my wife and daughter are supportive of this adventure.

To make this a reality. I need to raise approximately $13,000 before the ‘15/’16 ski season. This will help me to attend the premiere ski racing camp for skiers with disabilities this December in CO, upgrade my equipment from the early 1990s (this includes regulations that require me to have different skis for each type of race I do so I have to buy three pair of skis), travel expenses (flights for me and my sighted racing guide), accommodations (will always try to secure homestays) and other race related expenses. I would also love any leads on a potential sighted guide who can train and travel with me.

Please visit my USABA Athlete Development Account for more information about my fundraising.
Training and setting the bar high is not new to me. For the past five years I’ve been an avid long-distance runner. I’ve completed one ultra-marathon (54.7 miles in 12-hours) and eight marathons (including two Boston Marathons). So committing to and dedicating the necessary training time is something that I thrive on. Although I will continue to run as cross-training and for the enjoyment, I will focus on ski racing and the necessary training and fitness that will allow me to accomplish my goals.

Life is funny in the way it presents different opportunities. I am very thankful for the adaptive ski programs that embrace and empower athletes with different abilities. If for not them, I would not have rekindled my love for skiing. Regardless of my ski racing adventure, I can now truly enjoy skiing again and participate in this fantastic activity with my wife and daughter. One of this season’s highlights was cruising down a trail behind my guides, coming to a quick stop, and turning around and seeing my daughter about 15 yards behind me. She was chasing me and we both were loving it (this will probably last for only two more seasons before she is smoking me down the hill.

There is no better feeling than being able to do a sport you love with the people you love! -