Since October—when winter was still an icy hint on the breeze and ski season a distant dream—the team at Adaptive Sports Association (ASA) was hard at work. With the summer programs coming to a close, Executive Director Ann Marie Meighan was preparing for their big volunteer recruitment push in November, and hopefully, one of their greatest winter seasons ever. Ann Marie’s excitement for the coming season was contagious. It was evident that she is genuinely passionate about the organization, the lives changed, and the connections forged through Adaptive Sports and its programs. Ann Marie, who has been with ASA since 2006, lit up as she explained that “the thing that has kept me involved for so long and excited for so long is just the community of people that Adaptive brings together. ”With thanks and gratitude for the selfless help of countless volunteers over the decades, the Adaptive Sports Association continues to grow.
“We have more than 300 community volunteers that support the organization in every imaginable aspect,” Ann Marie explained. She was proud to note that “our youngest is 12—that is our minimum age for a junior volunteer—and our oldest is probably in his early 80s. It’s the most diverse group of people that I have ever seen working towards a common goal. It’s amazing. ”Throughout the winter, there are four main groups that ASA serves: individual skiers, veterans, the San Juan Shredders, and the Learn-to-Ski Scholarship Program participants.
The mission of the Adaptive Sports Association—for over 35 years since its founding—is to provide outdoor sport and recreational experiences for people with cognitive and physical challenges. These experiences ultimately create innumerable opportunities for enrichment and transfor-mation in the lives of the participants as they realize the extent of their capabilities. For ASA to accomplish [this] goal and do so successfully, “It all depends on the needs of the participants. And, of course,” Ann Marie continued, “on the availability of our volunteers. ”While volunteering might feel a little intimidating for some, Ann Marie emphasized that “we don’t expect people to come in with any prior disability experience or teaching experience. It’s not unheard of for someone to come into the program and say, ‘I really want to be involved, but I don’t know how to ski.’ The good news is, we are a ski school, so it’s a great place to come in.”
ASA provides free training for all aspects of the job. Also, educational programs are offered not only at the beginning of the season but throughout the season. Volunteers, first instructed on how to teach skiing, are then introduced to the reality of what to do when traditional methods don’t or won’t work. [This] includes adding equipment and modifying teaching techniques to allow participants to be as successful as possible. After these two clinics, new volunteers shadow seasoned volunteers out on the mountain. In addition to this initial training, Adaptive Sports offers supplementary clinics throughout the season. These clinics provide volunteers, depending upon their needs or interests, training on specific equipment or education on particular disabilities. Even with the training and support that is available, on-snow volunteering isn’t for everyone. ASA has plenty of need for off-snow volunteers, too.
“The cool thing about the program is there is a place for everybody,” Ann Marie said. “People can take on as much as they want. ”For example, cabin hosts are present at the base of the mountain each day, greeting participants, making introductions, and generally keeping things moving. The organization also has four major fundraising events throughout the year, and volunteers are needed to collect auction items and prizes, and to staff those events. Ann Marie, sweeping her hand about the room, gestured that help in the office is welcome, as well.
The home host option, for the Learn-to-Ski Scholarship Program, is something that significantly benefits ASA and its participants. Every week, from around mid-January through mid-March, Adaptive Sports brings in four to six individuals with disabilities from all over the country. “We try to identify people for whom this is their first big adventure, post-injury. It’s a big deal.” It’s an all-expense-paid trip for the skiers, so volunteered housing is a big part of making that work. “This is a really cool way for people to be involved in the organization, who maybe don’t have the time to teach up at the mountain or aren’t skiers, but they want to offer some support.”
No matter the role they play, volunteers bring the support and encouragement necessary to make the Adaptive Sports experience a transformative one. Ann Marie explained that one of the primary goals for the organization is to get participants to realize their capabilities. “You get to see this huge blossom in their personality,” Ann Marie said. “It’s like this new-found self-confidence and independence as they realize, if I can do this, what else in my life can I do.”
She shared the story of a teenage boy who came last year with a group from Southern California. All participants had spinal cord injuries. The young man had been a big surfer before his injury, and he didn’t think he’d ever be able to be active again. “He came out and was able to ski using a sit-ski, and you could just see the wheels start to turn as he thought, okay, so how do I start to modify these other things in my life that I thought were just done?” That is the question that drives Adaptive Sports every day, and that makes it such a rewarding group to be a part of, not only as a participant but as a volunteer. Many volunteers continue to return again and again after their first year. Although their main volunteer recruitment period is over for this winter season, help is welcome at any point. Interested people can email the winter office at [email protected] or call them at the mountain at 970-385-2163. They also have a full calendar of summer activities and programs, as well. Summer recruitment starts in May, and training will begin at the end of May/June.
“We have more than 300 community volunteers that support the organization in every imaginable aspect, our youngest is 12—that is our minimum age for a junior volunteer—and our oldest is probably in his early 80s. It’s the most diverse group of people that I have ever seen working towards a common goal. It’s amazing.” - Ann Marie Meighan, Executive Director
Story written by: Sara Knight Photos Provided by: Adaptive Sports Association