Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The National Ability Center

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The National Ability Center

Article excerpt

Enhancing Mind, Body, and Soul

Nestled in the mountains of Park City, Utah, the Ability Center has been integrating and including people who have disabilities in adaptive recreational activities since 1985. Founders Meeche White, a therapeutic recreation specialist, and Peter Badewitz, a former US Disabled Ski Team member (who has had a leg amputation) began offering lessons in adaptive alpine skiing. The philosophy behind the Center is to help individuals who have disabilities develop lifetime skills by providing quality, affordable sports, as well as recreational services and programs to individuals and their families. Today, the Center, which is part of a full-fledged mountain resort, also offers other adaptive recreation programs including: horseback riding, swimming, waterskiing, and tennis, and outdoor education trips which involve activities such as white water rafting.

Teaching--rewards in numbers

Mike McBee, who has spina bifida, is just one of the Center's success stories. Mike began taking lessons at the Ability Center using a "mono-ski" (a form of adaptive ski equipment which includes a specialized seat attached to a suspension system that connects to a ski). After about 15 lessons, Mike joined the Ability Center's ski team where he continued to excel in the sport. His interest prompted him to pursue certification, and today he is a full-fledged ski instructor at the Center.

According to Neil Lundberg, assistant program director for the Ability Center, all of the ski instructors have a background in alpine and adaptive skiing, and certification from the Professional Ski Instructors of America (a nonprofit organization that certifies instructors). Lundberg also states, "The majority of our instructors also have a background in physical, occupational, or therapeutic recreation."

Mike teaches both mainstream skiers as well as a variety of children and adults who have special needs. This includes: those who have Down syndrome, visual and hearing impairments, and severe mental retardation. He finds both challenging, but adapts his methods to meet all levels of ability. In fact, through the use of a bi-ski, the Ability Center is even able to provide a skiing experience for those who have very limited physical ability or strength. Mike explains, "A bi-ski is like a mono-ski, but has a deeper, more supportive seat and is mounted on two wide skis for increased stability. Fixed outriggers may be used to provide additional balance, and instructors or volunteers are often tethered behind the skier to help control speed."

Helping students overcome their fears is one of Mike's most difficult tasks. "I usually lead by example, and when they see I am doing it, their fears start to go away. I also try to break each method down, making it as simple as possible." Mike works with each individual to go over the fundamentals, which include stopping and starting. When asked if he thinks of himself as a role model, Mike pensively replies, "I want to show others who have special needs that if I can accomplish this, they can as well."

Mike also gains some personal gratification in seeing his pupils learn and succeed. One student that stands out in his mind is a girl who has severe mental retardation. "She was in a weekly session, and she'd come in a couple of hours per week. The first day, the only thing we got done was how to walk around in the skis. Then, every once in a while, she would just go limp, and fall down. …

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