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Several locals receive top ski honors

Published in the Durango Herald on November 11, 2014

If there’s a will, there’s a way. Three former Durango-area residents will be inducted into the Durango Winter Sports Foundation’s Hall of Fame. Saturday’s event is called Alpineglow, an annual evening of dinner, dancing, fundraising and celebrating.

The foundation was created nine years ago to support local kids in winter sports – from developing athletes to elite competitors.

While competitive slalom, giant slalom and downhill skiing is demanding for athletes of any caliber, these inductees faced even greater challenges.

When Dave Spencer lost his right leg to cancer in 1979, he didn’t slow down. In 1982, he packed up shop and moved to Durango, becoming a ski instructor. The next year, along with Lana Jo Chapin, Spencer founded The Durango/Purgatory Handicapped Sports Association, now known as the Adaptive Sports Association.

Spencer directed the association until the year of his death, in 1986, but his legacy lives on. The 17th annual Dave Spencer Classic race kicks off Feb. 27.

Chapin herself is a below-the-knee amputee as the result of a motorcycle accident, and her never-give-up fortitude saw her through a successful career in ski racing.

Chapin was a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team from 1984 to 1989, and she took medals at the 1984 and 1989 Paralympics and 1986 World Championships. Today, she has one gold, two silver and one bronze medal.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Chapin said about her induction. “I’m in great company and humbled to share the honer with so many recipients before me.”

Chapin, living near Allison, still skis, “on my own, to feel the wind in my hair.”

She said working with others helped her in her own way. As an ASA ski coach, Chapin developed younger skiers, many of whom had their own success stories.

Mary Riddell is a below-the-knee amputee, born with congenital bonding. She received her first prosthetic leg at 7-months old. By age 3, she was downhill skiing. That’s when she met Dave Spencer.

“I think I asked him if our legs would ever grow back,” she said.

Living in Dove Creek, her parents noticed her knack for the slopes. By age 9, she was on the ski team.

“My parents would drive me over (to Durango) every Thursday, and I would stay with Lana Jo for the weekend,” Riddell said, now living in Boulder.

Chapin coached Riddell for six years.

“Giving of ourselves and helping coach others would bring success to myself,” Chapin said…

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