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Thursday, December 04, 2014
The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge creates moments of thrills and therapy
Alli Langley / firstname.lastname@example.org
An avalanche bomb exploded at Breckenridge Ski Resort a couple peaks north of the slope where Chip Sell stood. The skier stopped talking and turned away for a moment.
“I don’t like to ever be near the big booms,” said the 46-year-old Army veteran. “That takes you right back.”
The sound and the accompanying concussive force sometimes remind him of the life-changing mortar attack he experienced while serving in Iraq in 2003.
That blast exploded 10 to 15 feet in front of him, he said, and lodged shrapnel into his leg, chest, face and scalp.
“I was able to walk away, and I still have my arms. I still have my legs. I feel very, very, very lucky and very fortunate,” he said.
“Everybody loses a little bit of themselves when they get injured.”
Chip Sell Army veteran
The attack left Sell with a mild traumatic brain injury. He retired from his military career and did a few years of speech and cognitive processing therapy.
On Wednesday, Nov. 3, Sell was one of roughly 800 participants in The Hartford Ski Spectacular, an event in its 27th year put on by Disabled Sports USA and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.
Held at Beaver Run Resort, the five-day-long event draws people from all over the U.S. to celebrate adaptive snowsports.
The ski spectacular offers training classes for adaptive instructors, lessons in adaptive skiing and snowboarding for people with disabilities, opportunities to try activities like curling and sled hockey, and a chance for adaptive amateurs and professionals to gather with their families and enjoy time on the mountain.
‘SOMETHING EVERYBODY SHOULD FEEL’
Sell left his wife, a teacher, and his 9-year-old daughter at school to come to the event to support the other participants. He doesn’t ask the people he meets about how they might’ve been injured or in what ways they might have been disabled since birth.
“If somebody wants to tell me what happened to them, I let them tell me,” he said. “I just want to ski with them.”
Sell volunteers with an adaptive skiing program where he lives and has volunteered as an ambassador for Disabled Sports USA. He’s always willing to lend a hand or simply share a smile.
“Whatever support I can give in whatever way I can give,” he said. “If I can somehow help them through it, you know, it helps me in a way.”
At the top of a lift, he skate-skied up to where a monoskier’s adaptive equipment had gotten stuck to see if he could help.
“Everybody loses a little bit of themselves when they get injured,” he said.
But instead of dwelling on the negatives, he said, people can overcome fears at the event, push their bodies’ limits at their own pace and discover or renew a passion.
“It’s all about that feeling,” he said, describing the excitement and enjoyment that comes with learning a new skill or speeding confidently down a ski run. “It’s something everybody should feel and experience.”
Snowsports can be therapeutic for anyone, regardless of whether they have PTSD or all four limbs, he said.
“I don’t like saying disability. I hate saying that word,” he said.
All over the mountain, people with different abilities are challenging those abilities, he said. Almost all are smiling.
‘A TOUCHING OF SPIRITS’
A constant stream of people flowed in between Beaver Run Resort and the slope above the Quicksilver Super6 chairlift Wednesday.
From beginners on snow for the first time with their dedicated instructors to elite athletes training with their coaches, the event came alive with hundreds of resilient people with inspiring stories.
One professional athlete, Shawn Cheshire, stopped for a few minutes before putting on her alpine skis. The 39-year-old lost her sight after an accident while working as an EMT five years ago.
Cheshire, a single mother of two, has since won medals representing the U.S. in international competitions as a runner and tandem bicyclist, and she will compete as a tandem cyclist in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Brazil.
She had never skied as a sighted person, but she quickly added accomplished cross-country skier and biathlete to her resume, and she brought those skills to the last two ski spectaculars.
This year’s event, though, was her first to try downhill skiing.
On her third day on alpine skis, she said she and Margie Sinton, her guide and instructor, had worked out a counting system that helps Cheshire time when to make her turns.
In between lessons Wednesday, another instructor explained that he tells the skiers with adaptive equipment the same thing he tells his other students.
Ralph Marche, a 56-year-old from Massachusetts who has volunteered to give lessons for at least 15 ski spectaculars, said he pointed a frustrated student on Tuesday toward someone else learning on the slopes.
“Look, she’s able-bodied. She’s doing all the same things you are,” he said.
Beyond the incredible physical feats participants accomplish at the spectacular, Marche said, many participants are even more affected by the human bonds and connections formed.
“It’s hard to really describe the healing,” he said. “It truly is a touching of spirits that happens.”