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Regaining Freedom: Ski lessons take these athletes beyond the slopes

Published in the Durango Herald on March 1, 2014

In this race, it’s not about how fast you go. It’s more about how much fun you can have. It’s more about building confidence. It’s more about sharing happiness.

The Adaptive Sports Association’s 16th annual Dave Spencer Ski Classic brought more than 125 participants to Durango Mountain Resort on Saturday to race against their own predicted times on the clock, compete for the best costume and even for the best wipeout as they dropped in a 690-foot race course.

Today, an “all mountain rally” is scheduled with an ’80s theme that is being compared with the Amazing Race reality television show, sending participants on a wild goose chase about the mountain, searching for clues and completing various challenges.

But unlike typical athletes, some of these competitors have some challenges of their own.

The Adaptive Sports Association, in its 30th year, was founded by the late charismatic Dave Spencer as a program specifically for people with disabilities.

“Our goal is to enhance the lives and self-esteem of folks with disabilities, and we’re using recreation as a tool,” Assistant Program Director Iris Gardner said.

Spencer, who lost a leg to cancer, began working with a woman who also had lost her leg, and he soon realized that teaching her to ski could have a far greater impact on her life, said ASA Executive Director Tim Kroes.

“It became more of an ‘If I can do this, I can do anything’ kind of attitude,” he said.

Kroes said he came to the program 23 years ago and keeps coming back.

“There’s something magical that seems to happen,” Kroes said. “That’s what keeps me excited. Somebody learning to ski or river raft or kayak or rock climb – those are the tools we use to impact their lives in a more significant way, to build self-confidence.”

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