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(Image by: Nicole Cheslock) Twenty years ago, Haakon Lang-Ree’s sister encouraged him to volunteer for Disabled Sports USA Far West, the founding chapter of the nationwide organization that provides adaptive sports instruction and adventures.
“I got hooked. I really liked the people I was working with and thought, ‘This is pretty cool’,” explains Lang-Ree, the Disabled Sports USA’s Program Director. “As humans we all strive to achieve, to meet a challenge and we all have distinct abilities to get there.”
He talks about the “rush” of skiing and riding. Truckee resident Erin Freeman knows about this rush. Freeman is one of four students from Choices Transitional Services, a Truckee-based program for people with developmental disabilities, visiting the Disabled Sports Program Center on a recent snowy weekday morning.
“I love getting out there and snowboarding on my own,” Freeman, a twenty-six year old first skied when she was five years old, said. She went from skiing with a rigged up hospital walker to outrigger to snowboarding with a balance bar to riding independently.
Disabled Sports provides instruction to children and adults with permanent disabilities as defined under the American Disabilities Act. This translates to a large and diverse client base including people with cognitive, developmental, physical and emotional differences. The majority of students explore “stand up” skiing and riding. Others take advantage of equipment including sit down bi and mono skis. Individual donations, grants and membership/lesson fees fund operations, equipment and the small staff led by Lang-Ree. Trained volunteers support core staff to make it all possible. There are 150 volunteers including instructors and lesson assistants. Volunteers also play a huge role in supporting annual fundraisers including the upcoming Ability Bash on Saturday, March 26.
“The best part about volunteering for Disabled Sports events is the sense of unity. From the first time volunteer to the long time financial sponsors and everyone in between, I feel like each person is there for the same reason. It’s to help someone in some way, however big or small that is. That feeling gives a sense of connecting with people that want to better the life of someone,” explains volunteer Dawn Courtney.
Wonder how a financial investment can make a difference? Consider this: $100 provides a water ski lesson, $200 provides a snow ski lesson, $250 provides outriggers, and $2,500 provides a mono-ski.
The mission of Disabled Sports USA is to provide affordable, inclusive physical and recreational activities that build health and confidence. Support includes donating time, money and talent. An intensive weekend training session can turn an advanced skier into a lesson assistant and Disabled Sports is dedicated to ongoing training throughout the season.When the snow melts, the action picks up in nearby lakes and on the street. Instruction is available in cycling, water skiing, rowing, sailing and there are four wheeling and white water rafting adventures.
Courtney reflects on riding a recumbent style bicycle with a young woman. “My first hands-on experience was a cycling event in Sacramento and I remember being just terrified about doing or saying something wrong. We both had pedals and a handle that allowed us both to aid in steering. It took a few minutes to get used to the awkwardness of the bike itself, but we worked together and found a rhythm…the next thing I knew we were chatting away with the wind in our hair. For that twenty or thirty minutes she wasn't a blind or handicap person at all, but just a nice girl that I had the good fortune of enjoying a ride with on a beautiful day.”
“That day, I learned the true value of volunteers and the Disabled Sports programs that help everyday people have extraordinary experiences. I feel very lucky to be a part of that,” Courtney adds.
2011 Ability Bash