Friday, February 10, 2012

Adaptability is Everything

Last week I took a couple of ski runs with a 22-year-old woman named Cassie. This is her second winter on skis, and she spends each Wednesday afternoon with her instructors, Red and Karen, gradually improving her skiing skills and discussing Sesame Street on the chairlift.

Cassie is one of the scores of folks who enjoy a variety of sporting activities with the help of the Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country. Her skiing will likely always be restricted to the Tuckerbrook learning area at Cannon Mountain, where the rust-colored parkas of ASPNC’s volunteer instructors dot the white slopes every day. Seeing those volunteers leading folks with a variety of disabilities down the slopes this winter has caused me to think of a woman who overcame many life obstacles with a mantra of “Adaptability is Everything,” and for whom the Paulie’s Folly trail on Cannon’s “Front Five” is named.

With a mission of providing year-round recreation opportunities to people with disabilities – some lifelong challenges, others the result of disease or injury – the ASPNC helps more than 100 people each year experience skiing, hiking, soccer, bicycling, and other outings. Participants range from children as young as 5 years old to adults over age 70. The ASPNC’s goal is to help others get out and enjoy life, and to offer support and guidance in the endeavor to adapt to and overcome their disabilities.

ASPNC, its 70-plus volunteers, and its partners believe that “for a person with a disability, the opportunity to experience the thrill of accomplishment can be a life-affirming experience.”

I have always reveled in the beauty of the mountains and the exhilaration of skiing down or hiking up them, and I fully understand the thrill and inspiration that can be found in the outdoors. So I admire both the dedication of ASPNC volunteers and the courage of the people who look beyond their own limitations to try something new, and to rely on others for the support they need.

“Adaptability is Everything” is the motto Paulie Hannah adopted after she contracted polio as a young woman. Paulie was a ski racer, a farmer, a wife, and mother of four young children when the crippling disease put her in a wheelchair. Despite her disability, Paulie lived a full life, managing the family farm in Sugar Hill, raising money for local and national ski racing, raising a family, creating art. In every photograph I’ve seen of Paulie, she is smiling a wide, infectious grin. Surely she and her family faced numerous challenges throughout her life, but she adapted to the restraints of polio for 50 years, living into her 80s.

Perhaps if there had been an organization like ASPNC in the 1950s, Paulie would have been able to ski the trail named in her honor, again experiencing first-hand the thrill of flying downhill.

The day I tagged along with Cassie, Red (a longtime professional ski instructor and retired civil engineer) and Karen (an occupational therapist by trade) used a variety of tools and tricks to help Cassie improve her skiing – and her confidence. By the second run, Cassie was making snowplow turns without the tethers that had been attached to her skis to allow Karen to help her turn. With help and encouragement, Cassie was making her own turns, and the smile on her face was testament to her own thrill of accomplishment.

(In this week's Record-Littleton.)

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