On a day too warm and pleasant to belong to the Teton’s in January, I found myself at the base of Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming, taking in the sights of their Plaza and base ski area. As is often the case at Targhee, there were not throngs of crowds, just enough individuals and families to add joviality and color to the scene. The stucco facades rose up like canyons on either side in contrast to the sun-sparkled and snow covered conifers rising up the angles of Fred’s Mountain ahead. The smell of grilled food and hot chocolate filled the air.
I sat strategically in the corner window of Branding Iron restaurant, holding a gourmet huckleberry barbecue burger in one hand and binoculars in the other. I was trying desperately to sneak glimpses of my daughter who was enrolled with her kindergarten classmates in an Alpine ski winter sports program. Kids in Teton Valley, Idaho have it good – the public schools offer a variety of winter sports to immerse themselves in the Teton winter wonderland. Today was my daughter’s first opportunity to experience the thrill of careening down a slope of wonder.
But this was no ordinary first-time experience.
Two years ago my daughter was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, a rare neuro-genetic disorder. When a parent first learns that their child has a condition that will render them unable to speak, unable to walk and require lifelong care, it’s hard to have much hope for the future. While most parents worry about ear infections and what college their child will attend, I’m wondering if mine will speak more than 10 words in her lifetime, or ever be invited to a sleep over. My mental “things my child will never do” list was quite extensive. Skiing was certainly high on that list.
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of a great team of therapists and sports professionals at Teton Adaptive Sports, individuals with physical, cognitive or medical disabilities are able to enjoy the same thrills (and spills) that captivate the rest of us in the wintertime. Headquartered in Jackson Hole, Teton Adaptive Sports was formed in 2005 with a mission “to promote and support sports and recreation opportunities for people with disabilities living in and visiting the Greater Teton Area.” Their winter Adaptive Ski Programs are available at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village and Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming. They provide lessons for all ages, adaptive ski equipment, and offer financial assistance when necessary. In the summer months, Teton Adaptive Sports sponsors events that include biking, paddling, rafting, fishing, and climbing, and more.
According to Disability is Natural, “one American in five has a disability, making people with disabilities the largest minority group and the only group that anyone can join at any time: at birth or through an accident, illness, or the aging process.” The folks at Teton Adaptive Sports believe that people should never be limited by their challenges, and instead create new possibilities and an environment of inclusion for everyone in the community and beyond. Their motto – “It’s not a disability, it’s a possibility.”
Teton Adaptive Sports does a great job of partnering with existing services in our valleys. Our daughter had a great team… Tara Sanders, the Adaptive Program Coordinator at Targhee (who also doubles as a moose); Annie Kobetsky, Occupational Therapist from Teton Therapy in Victor, ID; Mary Langdon, a volunteer for the Adaptive program, and Jessy’s treasured paraprofessional Rachel from school. Together they strategized to give Jessy the best possible experience. I was amazed by their ingenuity and teamwork.
How was Jessy’s first-time skiing experience, you might well ask? Despite my high expectations for seeing my daughter whizzing down the bunny slopes, she remained timid and uncertain, at best. Okay, she cried for 3.5 hours. My friends assured me that this can be the case with neuro-typical kids too. I’ll take their word for it. If I have gained anything at all on this special needs journey, it is Endurance. Nothing worthwhile is achieved easily. In fact, it is the extent of our adversity that makes the eventual Joy even greater.
It takes a community to remind me that all things are possible. Great people, in love with a great place, can make a great difference in the lives of all of us, helping us find new ways to ski and overcome boundaries and barriers. Thank you, Teton Adaptive Sports, for your commitment to our families.
Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty