Adaptive sports involves, “adapting” equipment and styles to accommodate people with a wide range of disabilities. Ski resorts across the country have been on the cutting-edge of developing adaptive sports programs.
Programs started first on the slopes and now often include a lot of different sports and outside pursuits. The mission is always the same. - expose people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to life-enriching activities.
The adaptive ski program at Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort was introduced more than a decade ago. Water-based sports, like kayaking came into the picture eight years ago.
The current director of the water sports program is Anne Stout of Bedford. She was first exposed to the concept of adaptive sports, when her now-20 year old daughter Savanna, joined the ski program at Wintergreen. Savanna has Spina Bifida, a permanently disabling birth defect.
Anne explains, “My daughter has been involved with the Wintergreen Adaptive Winter Sports Program for 14 years. She started skiing when she was just shy of six years old and has been paddling with the paddling program for five years.”
While her mom talks, Savanna, sitting in a kayak, begins to cry. It’s not because she’s sad, but because this program has made her life so much richer than she might have imagined or hoped for.
Looking back on her first couple of times in the water, learning to kayak, she recalls, “One of the instructors that we had one time; I was floating in the river and he said; I think we should put you in a solo boat and I’m like ‘You’re kidding me?’ And they got me in a solo boat and I’ve been in a solo boat ever since.”
Between skiing and kayaking she’s made many life-long friends. The boating program, she explains, has opened many doors for her. At first she was scared to death and now she floats down rivers or on lakes, “having a blast and laughing and just having a great time.”
She is quite certain that without adaptive sports she wouldn’t be having as much fun as she is today. On a recent trip down the Seven Islands section of the James River, three paddlers are "Wounded Warriors" with physical or emotional scars from service in the military,
Wintergreen’s adaptive program, like many similar ones around the country, pays special attention to the needs of both active and retired service people. Anne Stout explains that it is especially important for men and women who may feel disenfranchised and alone to have outlets.
“We’ve adapted our boats to fit people with different disabilities. And without this program a lot of these folks would not be doing this. They would be at home playing video games, whatever, not realizing that this beautiful nature and everything is out here,” she said.
Including wounded warriors in the adaptive program is one way to thank them for their tremendous sacrifices, to give something back to folks who’ve had something taken from them.
Tanya Bailey, a wounded Army veteran, and her husband Antonio, who is still active in the military, brought four of their five teenagers on this James River float trip.
“When I first joined, started going to different Wounded Warriors, I wouldn’t leave my home. I was afraid to leave the house,” Bailey said. Now between skiing and her just-acquired kayaking skills she has more confidence, not to mention a permanent smile on her face.
In two days of practice she’s learned to do a t-rescue and to easily roll over in her solo kayak. For everything this program has done for her, she says the benefits to her children are even more notable.
“It’s our whole family and our kids rally get the most out of this because you really don’t have a lot for the kids to understand when you’re broken from overseas. They don’t really get that much. These programs, they understand what mom and dad went through,” she explains.
She frequently talks to other injured veterans about the benefits of adaptive sports, which she says is one of the biggest benefits for her. Wintergreen’s Adaptive Sports Program is a chapter of Disabled Sports USA and you can learn more about it by clicking here.