VIDEO

Teaching children with special needs to ski is hard work, but the smiles are worth it

Posted Jan. 08, 2012, at 3:50 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 09, 2012, at 1:48 p.m.
Matt Jorgensen (left) guides Bruce Kapp with the aid of a tether while training at the Camden Snow Bowl Saturday.
Matt Jorgensen (left) guides Bruce Kapp with the aid of a tether while training at the Camden Snow Bowl Saturday. Buy Photo

CAMDEN, Maine — Volunteers spent two days training at the Camden Snow Bowl over the weekend for a simple goal — to see a child smile.

The Snow Bowl and Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation teamed up for the second year to offer free ski lessons for children with special needs or disabilities.

Before the kids could be taught, the volunteers had to go through training of their own.

“It’s great to see the interest,” said John Stolecki of New Haven, one of the trainers who has been with Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation for 22 years. MASR was formerly named Maine Handicapped Skiing.

Andrew Dailey, Camden Snow Bowl director of ski school and director of marketing, said 15 people showed up for the two-day training.

“As far as the Snow Bowl is concerned, we have a great core group of volunteers that are here and want to do it,” Dailey said.

The Camden Snow Bowl is offering free lessons on upcoming Sundays for kids with special needs or disabilities. There will be a morning session from 10 a.m. to noon and an afternoon session 1-3 p.m. on Jan. 22 and 29, and Feb. 5 and 19.

The volunteers were learning how to use special equipment they’ll be using with the children.

MASR program director Judy Sullivan was helping with the training. On Saturday, the volunteers were learning how to use tethers and outriggers.

The outriggers, which look like forearm crutches on a small ski that’s able to brake, “help people who have balance issues or strength issues in their lower extremities,” said Sullivan. “It gives them four points of balance on the snow — two on the skis and two on the outriggers. It’s a good balancing tool.

“Tethering is putting a climbing harness with a set of tethers on them,” she said. “It gives them the freedom of movement without the fear of sliding too fast. It’s used in speed control and it’s used to direct people into the turns.”

The volunteers broke into two groups, learned how to use the devices and then switched.

Sullivan said many of the volunteers have backgrounds in working with children with disabilities, but Dailey added that some additional information was provided.

“It’s good to understand the keys to autism, the key to [post-traumatic stress disorder]. Giving that background information to volunteers is vital,” he said.

Stolecki said all the hard work and training is worth it.

“Absolutely, absolutely [worth it]. The smiles on the faces,” Stolecki said of the training’s rewards. “We’re all skiers. It’s great to see other people enjoy skiing. And of course, for the folks who are a little bit challenged, the idea that now they’re sliding downhill is an immense enjoyment and excitement to them. And they get to bring that back into their life and it’s something they never had before.”

The experience is something the kids remember for a long time, added Stolecki.

“They can go home and go to school the next day and tell the kids who went skiing maybe once or twice that they went skiing off the top of Sunday River last week. It’s wonderful,” he said.

That the Snow Bowl helps children with disabilities is nothing new, said Dailey. He said the Snow Bowl held a day of free lessons last year, and this is the third season that they have worked with Camden’s Seton School to have occupational therapy for kids on Wednesdays.

Dailey said having volunteers from MASR with the Snow Bowl this year has helped tremendously, given their experience and that they bring their own equipment, which saves money.

There are challenges at the Camden Snow Bowl, said Dailey. The lodge is not handicapped accessible and there isn’t much of a beginners area.

“We’re limited on what we can offer currently. We’re getting off the ground and taking baby steps,” said Dailey.

Dailey said those interested in signing up for lessons can call him at the lodge at 236-3438, ext. 111, or email him at adailey@camdenmaine.gov.

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