LAKE PLACID - It's easy to take things for granted in life.
For example, thousands of skiers and snowboarders have been enjoying the recent snowstorms and the slopes at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area. It's winter in the Adirondacks and skiing is part of its culture.
But what if you wanted to ski or snowboard and you had physical limitations that prevented you from enjoying these great winter activities?
Blake Fay with his Adaptive Instructor. Blake is a Kindergartener at the Lake Placid Elementary School.
Lake Placid High School student Elisa Lynch has made it her senior project to make people aware of a program at Whiteface that gives adults and children with disabilities who want to learn how to ski and snowboard an opportuntiy to do so. It's called The Adaptive Skiing Program.
Elisa, who was diagnosed with ataraxic cerebral palsy as a child, has benefited from the program.
Program founder and current director of the Adaptive Skiing Program at Whiteface Don Dew Sr, began teaching Elisa how to ski back in 2002, when she wasn't able to walk much. He said Elisa has come along way since entering the program, winning two Gold Medals at the recent Empire State Winter Games.
"It's absolutely spectacular that she is not only able to stand up ski, but also be able to race in the Empire State Games," Dew told the News.
Both Dew and her mother and father Holli and Peter Lynch said they're proud of Elisa's progress as a skier, and pleased she chose the Adaptive Ski Program as her senior project topic.
"I hope that it will bring some awareness to what we have to offer those with disabilities," Dew said, adding that he really enjoys seeing those who take part in the program have fun on the slopes. "It brings great pleasure to see these athletes - the smile on their faces, and the enthusiasm they have as they learn how to ski."
"We encouraged Elisa to do her senior project on a cause she felt strongly about," Holli Lynch told the News. "The adaptive ski program has been such a positive influence for Elisa and we hope that it can continue and reach out to more North Country people. We would love to see this program grow and see a lot more people with challenges out on the ski hill having fun in the future."
Her parents said that they did not know too much about the program until their daughter joined.
"Honestly we had never heard of the adaptive program before Don Dew approached us about Elisa skiing with them. We had been struggling along making our own adaptations to ski equipment, trying to make it work," Holli said. "The challenges of winter are even more difficult for individuals with physical challenges, this program has given us something positive during the winter months. It's been wonderful to see Elisa reach independence on the ski hill."
At first, the News was going to use Elisa's answers to integrate in this story, but they were so articulate, her responses have been published verbatim as follows:
Lake Placid News: I understand your Senior Project involves giving more attention to the Adaptive Skiing Program. Why did you choose this topic?
Elisa Lynch: I was diagnosed with ataxic cerebral palsy when I was 10 months old. This causes me to have poor balance and coordination. I grew up the youngest of four children in Lake Placid, a community that is centered around athletics and also in a family that loves sports but it was difficult to find activities that I could participate in successfully. I tried some school team sports but by the 9th grade the coaches thought it was too hard and dangerous for me to play. Everyone in my family skis, my older brother, so my parents would take me skiing even though I couldn't yet walk independently.
One day when I was about 5 years old, Don Dew, the director of the Whiteface Adaptive Ski Program, called my parents to see if I would like to come try the sit ski and be part of a news story about the adaptive ski program. This began my connection with the adaptive program at Whiteface Mountain.
Years later we heard about Double "H" an adaptive ski program in Lake Lazurne, I have also tried skiing there, which is a great program, but I like skiing at my home mountain, Whiteface. This program is important to me because kids with disabilities don't get enough opportunities to participate in different sports. I wanted to bring attention to the adaptive program so that it will continue because it has been so important to me and my family.
LPN: Tell me more about the program and what it does.
EL: The adaptive ski program provides kids and adults with disabilities the opportunity to ski with an instructor that has been specially trained. They may use adaptive equipment that they have in the adaptive office such as a sit ski, outriggers or a harness with tethers. Anyone with a disability is eligible to participate. The disabilities vary, for example deaf, blind, autistic, cerebral palsy, a cognitive disability or those that have a physical disability such as an amputation or paralysis.
LPN: Have you taken part in the program? If so, how has it helped you?
EL: I have taken part in the program since I was little. I have to admit that I stopped skiing for a while, but then a good friend, Patti McConvey, who helps organize the after-school ski program encouraged me to try the recreational program - and I did. I began skiing with my coach Terry Barrett and I was hooked. School is not easy for me, there are many days where I don't go to school. Skiing is an outlet for me.
When I ski I feel like I'm doing something that I love. I don't know, there is just something about skiing I wish people could understand, it doesn't feel good when someone says you can't do something because it is too hard for you, but with skiing I've gotten to the point where I can do it by myself and it feels great.
My mom says it makes me a happier person when I've been out skiing. Some days I don't want to go because life just feels too hard, I don't want to leave the house, but my mom and dad push me to go skiing. I go and then I come home happy.
LPN: Do you know others in the program? If so, how has it helped them?
EL: I have made some good friends through the Adaptive Ski Program. I met my friend Abigail at the adaptive ski program at double "H" and she has come up to do the Adaptive Ski Race at Whiteface two times and I hope she will come back next year. My parents took me to Windham Mountain last year to participate in their Adaptive Ski Race and this year eight racers came from Windham for our Empire State Games Event and they had such a good time they want to come back with more athletes next year.
LPN: Why do you think it is an important program?
EL: This program gives people with disabilities the chance to learn to ski. Like I said above, it can be difficult to find things to do when you have disabilities, especially in the winter. Everyone is different but for me, cerebral palsy effects my speech, eating, fine motor and gross motor, so everything is difficult. It's as hard for me to participate in an arts and crafts class as it is to participate in physical education class.
It's not fun always being different. It's so important to have a program where you feel like you belong.
LPN: What is the goal of your Senior Project and do you think it will help others to know about this program?
EL: My goal is to try to keep the Adaptive Ski Program going by getting more individuals skiing and to increase people's awareness of this program. The Empire State Game race has always been a great way to bring many of these athletes together at Whiteface. When I first started participating in the Adaptive Ski Program, the Empire State Games Race was a big event. I would estimate that there was more than 50 skiers and so many volunteers, it was awesome.
The way I understand it, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation offered the Games for the Physically Challenged, Senior Games and the Summer and WInter Empire State Games. Since 1990 the athletes from the Games for the Physically Challenged were invited by the Empire State Games to take part in adapted Alpine Skiing at the Winter Games in Lake Placid. Using equipment and trained instructors from adapted ski programs throughout New York State, paired with the Whiteface instructors and many volunteers it was always a wonderful, successful event. Susan Maxwell from Brockport worked for the Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged, she worked with Don Dew at Whiteface to bring athletes and their families to Whiteface.
With budgets constraints, the winter games are not funded the same as in the past and the last three years the adaptive race has been dwindling in numbers. There seems to be a push from some individuals to eliminate the part of the program that is for individuals like me and target the athletes that can perform at higher levels of competition. Don't get me wrong, I think that it is important to have an event for these athletes as well, but not at the cost of dropping this program that has been so successful.
LPN: Tell me about your love of skiing. Why do you ski? How much do you get to ski? What is your favorite trail at Whiteface and why?
EL: I am signed up to go to the recreational ski program two days a week after school and then my parents or my brother usually take me once on the weekends. I have been sick a lot this winter so I have not skied as much as I would like. Bear is my favorite trail at Whiteface. I used to have to use a harness with tethers to ski safely but I can now ski Bear without them and I am very proud of this accomplishment. My coach, Terry will sometimes take me up on Boreen and even Excelsior but I still need to use the tethers to do these trails.
LPN: Think of something you want to tell others about the Adaptive Skiing Program.
EL: Skiing is really fun! I think people should try it, or if you're a parent of a child with a disability, you should have them give it a try. Don Dew is a wonderful advocate for the adaptive program, it would not exist if not for him. My coach Terry is patient and my parents know they can trust him to make decisions about my abilities on the mountain.
I really want to say Thank you to all the wonderful people at Whiteface, everyone is so good to me, the lift attendants, the ticket people, Jay Rand at NYSEF, Whiteface General Manager Aaron Kellett, the people who groom the trails, all the wonderful volunteers, Patti McConvey and Carol Hoffman at the Lake Placid Ski Club, Susan Maxwell, but most importantly my coach Terry Barrett and Don Dew. I also want to thank all my relatives, friends and teachers that have supported me and came to cheer on the athletes.
And from Elisa's parents: We also want to say thank you to all the wonderful people that have helped Elisa. Life is challenging and we realize there are a lot of people that have given of themselves. We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see the good in so many people. Two years ago, we arrived at Whiteface for Elisa's race to find that the lift attendants has made her a big sign and hung it up in the window to cheer her on. Last year Don Dew invited Elisa to participate in a two-day clinic with some higher level adaptive skiers from New Hampshire and then let her forerun their race.
These may seem like little things but to a person who has met so many challenges, these are huge expressions of encouragement. So a big THANK YOU to everyone at Whiteface Mountain and our family, friends, Elisa's teachers and school support that have helped us along the way!!!
For more information on the Adaptive Ski Program at Whiteface, call 518-946-2223 or visit www.whiteface.com/mountain/snowsports-school/adaptive-ski-program.