Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
Feb. 28, 2023

Adaptive Sports Foundation at Windham Mountain

Adaptive Sports Foundation at Windham Mountain

As any skier knows, squeezing into a pair of ski boots can be quite the challenge. For skiers with physical and cognitive disabilities, though, preparing for a day on the slopes can require exponentially more time and effort. But that doesn't stop skiers like Todd Reid, who lives with spina bifida, from savoring a day on skis.  

At the base of Windham Mountain, the 7200 square foot Gwen Allard Adaptive Sports Center is headquarters for the Adaptive Sports Foundation, which, for almost 40 years, has provided "profound and life changing experiences for children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities and chronic illnesses through outdoor physical activity, education, support, and community."

Join us as we ski along with ASF's dedicated staff and volunteers, and hear from a few of their extraordinary clients.

Thanks to our sponsors:

Briars and Brambles Books
The Mountain Eagle
Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce

--- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/kaatscast/support


Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via https://otter.ai

Todd Reid  0:04  
It's great. It's nothing like going down the mountain...and it's always on you...and ski...and you better know what you're doing. Just because you can do something fast, don't stop yourself. Don't sit in your room and wallow in your own self pity. I never did that.

Brett Barry  0:27  
For Todd Reid and other clients of the Adaptive Sports Foundation, skiing the Catskills might take more time and effort, but the experience is no less fun. Earlier this month, we joined Todd for a run from the top of Windham with the assistance of a team of volunteers who made sure that experience was comfortable, safe, and exciting. Stay tuned to hear all about adaptive sports on the Catskills (Windham Mountain). This episode of Kaatscast is brought to you by Briars and Brambles Books. The go to independent book and gift store in the Catskills, located in Windham, New York, right next to the pharmacy, just steps away from the Windham Path. Open daily. For more information visit briarsandbramblesbooks.com or call 518-750-8599, and by the Mountain Eagle. Covering Delaware, Greene, and Schoharie counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham Weekly, Schoharie News, and Catskills Chronicle. For more information, call 518-763-6854 or email: mountaineaglenews@gmail.com. Based on Windham, the Adaptive Sports Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization, which since 1984, has been providing profound and life-changing experiences for children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities and chronic illnesses through outdoor physical activity, education, support and community. Since discovering the program in 1995, Todd Reid comes up from the Jersey Shore once a year to ski Windham.

Todd Reid  2:12  
Can you hear me?

Brett Barry  2:13  
I can hear you.

Todd Reid  2:13  
I was paralyzed from the waist down. I both have spina bifida, which is a curvature of the spine. I'm three times the champion for the benchpress, I coached three sports: I coached baseball, football, and wrestling...and I love coming out here. I live in Point Pleasant Beach...and now, New Jersey (that's the Jersey Shore), three hours both...both ways. I was looking into places to go skiing...and my brother's Don. He has happened to know...people will visit adaptive program in Windham, so I love it. It's great. It's nothing like going down a mountain, and you better know what you're doing.

Brett Barry  3:03  
And if you don't know what you're doing, the Adaptive Sports Foundation is well-equipped with both training and gear. Today, Todd is going out on a new snowkart with the assistance of trained volunteers. Program Manager Tony Vasile explains.

Tony Vasile  3:18  
This student was going to be in a bi-ski in the Mountain Man, he's been coming since 1995...and using that equipment, but looks like the instructors are selling him on making a switch to the snowkart by a company called Tessier. The snowkart is another sit-down ski, but this provides someone who has like safety awareness and good decision-making and the ability to read the terrain. It gives them a lot more independence in that the skis are controlled by the skier...by the person in the cart using these giant levers. So he'll be able to by pulling his arms together go into a wedge by opening an arm to one side or the other, you know, engage a turn, and by pulling the levers back will drive a spike into the snow and can hit the brakes. He will still have someone tethered to the back of it, but rather than them being in control, they're really just going to be there for an emergency brake and to maybe help shout out and guide where the turns, you know, maybe you should go; hold the wedge, open the wedge, you know, hold...hold...hold back to wedge and that kind of stuff. This is going to be really cool if he's been coming since '95. At this point that's as long as I've been alive...and so...so making a switch to a new piece of equipment so it's that's super exciting.

Brett Barry  3:28  
Later in the show, we'll join Todd for his first run in the snowkart. In the equipment room, Tony showed off a wide range of adaptive gear, including mono-skis, bi-skis, and outriggers. He explains.

Tony Vasile  4:57  
So this is our equipment room...through here is where all of our skis and boards get set up that's like our rental shop, but here is the real like adaptive equipment. So on this wall is our mono-skis. This wall is our bi-skis. So mono-skis are sit-down, skis that sit on one ski under them, the goal is to be completely independent with this equipment. So if someone has a spinal cord injury or you know, any kind of thing affecting their lower extremities, but their operators are still pretty strong, pretty stable. This is kind of where the goal is. So we have a few students that use these. The first few lessons typically are for instructors, maybe if...if we're lucky, you're gonna get four. So they can help push you up and work on straight runs. Because you really are going so far back to the beginning to like work on your straight runs, work on your turns, and work on your stopping...just like your regular beginner progression. So eventually, you know once we start making turns and stopping, we can start working on getting to the lift and things like that. The ultimate independence for the mono-ski is using outriggers that are on this wall, you have to do like a tricep dip and get your butt high up in the air to get under the chairlift. So it is a great deal of strength to be able to become completely independent, it takes a ton of work. The other side of sit-skiing is over here where we have our bi-skis...mono one by two...this has two skis on the ground. Most of our bi-skis are from Mountain Man, which is out of Bozeman, Montana. So this system you can see as I tilt it, the skis interact with each other they're articulating skis...and so as you tilt to the left like this, you can see that like the edge of both skis engages into the snow. So depending on your strength and endurance and really your...your overall like physicality, there's a huge variety or, you know, like a spectrum of independence that comes with this. If you're fully dependent on an instructor, you know, cerebral palsy can affect your cognition and your...your physical body. Some of these students that are super involved physically and also don't necessarily have the decision-making to turn and, you know, that kind of grasp of the actual driving the ski. The instructor is, you know, a few feet behind them holding on to tethers controlling the sled as it goes down the hill by, you know, changing the tension on the tethers. The student can help you by leaning if they can understand that if they can lean or to even just turn their head as you progress. If they, you know, do have some strength, what you could do is give them some handheld outriggers, and then you as the instructor helped to initiate the turns, but they would, you know, using these handheld outriggers, you know, lean into the turn use those to help create the edge and create the turn and things. So one of our mono-ski students we saw last year bi-skiing, he had cerebral palsy. He was like, I think nine years old at the time. But his cerebral palsy was pretty much isolated to the lower extremities. His core strength was pretty top-notch, his arm strength was pretty good, and he really looked like he understood it, he naturally read the terrain. So he gave him handheld outriggers...and at the end of the lesson, you know we talked to the parents we were like he's got it, you know, we should really try to get mono-skiing with him. If I'm standing which would be for if I was either, you know amputee, three-tracking or someone who might need, you know, just more stability overall, we call it four-tracking, you're making four tracks in the snow...with the outrigger now, it's a ski pole with just a cut ski at the bottom of it and there's two modes to it. So when you're going down the hill, you know, this is ski mode. If you're gonna now maneuver to the lift or side shuffle over to another, you know, run if it's like Belleayre, which is a, you know, a ridge very much a ridge you can flick this string and put it into walk mode. So now, you've got kind of a bear claw like ice pick on the bottom of it to help you get around...and same thing for the monos if they need to push to get around or to do that huge tricep dip like I was talking about. They dig into the snow and push up from there.

Brett Barry  9:41  
One student being equipped without rigors today is Julia, a young skier who's come up from Jersey City with her mom, Daniela.

Daniela  9:49  
Julia and she's eight years old and she has a spastic cerebral palsy. So this is her third time here...and while she's enjoying...learning to ski. She gets very tired, too...but she has a lot of fun and the...all the volunteers they are...they are great.

Brett Barry  10:09  
The ASF building, in addition to the equipment stored within, has one more unique feature that substantially simplifies a day on the mountain.

Tony Vasile  10:17  
One of the things like as we're in the equipment room, I always get super excited, that makes us pretty unique is this like slopeside location that we have. To my knowledge, at least, this is the only adaptive program where if you are a wheelchair user, you can park, you know, 20 feet from the door, roll up in...in the ramp, switch over to your sit-ski in the equipment room, and then out directly onto the snow and down, and then if you even come just past the tree a little bit, you know, all of this is run by the mountain, but this is essentially our lift that schlep folks back up here. It's a nice little beginner trail to like, that's a good...a good place to do some learning, but it just makes it so easy. If you are an independent mono-skier, you know, we have some instructors that are that are mono-skiers, and they can just make it such an easy trip as opposed to parking and getting on a shuttle going, you know, and getting set up in the base lodge and then having to be pushed up the hill to where the lifts are, you know, so that's my favorite part about this place actually is that it is slopeside equipment room to snow in 10 feet.

Todd Reid  11:33  
All right, you're gonna have to go up again.

Brett Barry  11:36  
Back inside, Todd was getting some final adjustments in his new snowkart, and we met up with another repeat client, Nicholas, up with his family for a day of ski fun. 

Nicholas  11:46  
Brett, nice to meet you. 

Brett Barry  11:47  
Nice to meet you, too. 

Nicholas  11:48  
I would like...oh, right.

Carlos  11:51  
Well, Nicholas is born blind, and he has autism...and we try to get him out to do normal things that other people do...and one of them is teaching them how to ski which I tried to do on my own until I found the adaptive sports program, and I pretty much handed it off to them, I was able to take a break and we come up every year, and he gets his instructors and he goes up on the mountain, and just has a great time. It's not so much about learning how to ski for him, but it's just being out there and doing...doing the ski. But...but, yeah...this is seems to be like all our vacations are here at Windham.

Tony Vasile  12:28  
In the past few years, the population that we've seen the most is autism...and kind of behind that is just broader neurodivergent. So we have a lot of students with ADHD with OCD...learning disabilities that don't have a definitive diagnosis. A lot of our students with cognitive disabilities lined up being what we call two-trackers. So they leave two tracks in the snow, they're on two skis, if we can get them to use poles. That's great. As you get into the physical disability side, that's when you see more of the adaptive equipment like the outriggers, that we were talking about and the sit-skis. Adaptive sports is taking the activity, whether it is skiing, and snowboarding, like we do in the...in the winter, or the bunch of activities we do in the summer...and it's modifying the activity or the equipment used in the activity or something about the activity itself to meet the individual. So we're not trying to change the person that comes in to accommodate skiing and ski culture and things like that. We're not trying to do that. We're trying to change the way that the skis turn or the way that the skiing might look or, you know, the way that the person gets down the hill. We try to alter that to meet the needs of the student.

Brett Barry  13:59  
After the break, we'll hit the slopes with Todd Reid and share a Lyft ride with one of his instructors, a wounded veteran with his own story. Stay with us. Kaatscast is a proud member of the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce. Providing services to businesses, community organizations, and local governments in the Central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and sign up for a weekly email of local events at centralcatskills.org. Thanks also to our listener supporters like Bill, Pamela, and Bruce. If you'd like to contribute, just click the "Donate" button at kaatscast.com, where you can hear all our shows searchable by keyword and transcript text, send an audio message or sign up for our newsletter. All that and more at kaatscast.com. Back at Windham, Todd was comfortably situated in his new snowkart and three volunteers helped him over and onto the Westside Six Chairlift. I grabbed a chair with one of his instructors who shared his own story on our way up to the summit.

Lou  15:08  
Hello, Lou Tavares. I've been with adaptive about eight years now. Funny story, how I found that about adaptive. I'm actually a student of adaptive I came through the Wounded Warrior Project program was wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was in a hospital and Wounded Warrior came. Wounded Warrior at the time, connected with adaptive sports and wanted to bring veterans; wounded veterans up to get them out outdoors...and luckily, I was one of the people selected and never looked back. In the beginning, it was very hard. But I, you know, persevered and I loved snowboarding so much that I was determined to, you know, get it actually...by my second or third year, adaptive actually one of them getting grant to get wounded warriors or disabled service veterans to get certified by PSIA, and to give back to teach other veterans how to snowboard or ski, and I wound up winning one of the grants and got certified my adaptive level one...and the only thing I had to work for a program and give back, so here I am. I volunteer about 20-24 days every season. I mean, it's rewarding. People think that I'm doing a service for others, you know, it's reciprocal in the same way I get...I get just as much back as I give. So it's great. It's amazing.

Dean  16:39  
So whatever works, however, the easiest way to hold those few work its, yeah. Alright, here's the whole trail back and forth across the trail, control your speed.

Brett Barry  16:48  
At the mountain summit, instructor Dean Totaro, tethered to the back of Todd's ski apparatus...and with the other instructors nearby, we very quickly set off down the trail. Tony Vasile skied alongside and explained the dynamic.

Tony Vasile  17:03  
So Lou is acting as a blocker right now as we come into an intersection. He's going to ride out in front and kind of make himself known as a present...and see how these guys up here are going to pause. They let us go by. She want a sit-ski team, you know, you always have the person tethering, and then you have anyone who's skiing around behind in front of the sled as they're acting as blockers to kind of just clear the space. We don't want traffic in this area. So that was a great run, Todd.

Todd Reid  17:37  

Tony Vasile  17:38  
That was a killer. So top to bottom, that's like two and a quarter miles. That's a long ride, man. That was awesome. Making really good turns on it, too.

Todd Reid  17:51  

Tony Vasile  17:51  
Yeah. Starting to get the feel for that...a whole different ballgame...you're used to. Awesome. Not bad on the shoulders. Good. Good.

Todd Reid  18:05  
And nothing like going down the mountain...when I first started in 1995, they put me in the bunny trail...and I was like, no, I'm here once a year. I want to go big or go home.

Brett Barry  18:22  
Nothing wrong with the bunny trail, though...and that's where Tony and I found Julia, who was working with her instructors on woolly bear at the base of the mountain.

Bill  18:30  
Alright, I think we got it, Julia. I think we got it. I think I got it this time.

Tony Vasile  18:38  
They're not going down and making the turn to this point. They're still working to make sure the equipment is in the right spot and stuff to have like a successful run. All of this time is productive; standing on the snow, standing in the boots, standing on the skis. All of that builds that kinesthetic awareness and really helps her out. We found like even last time bringing the chair out so that she can sit and rest and working on, you know, like the PT and me sees it as a sit to stand. So she's doing sit to stands from the chair up with the skis on and that's giving her an idea of like pressure management and weight distribution and...and all of these fundamentals of skiing.

Bill  19:19  
All right, nice and easy. Keep those outriggers out and funny. Push them out, push them out, push, come on, you gotta get your weight up. Good...and let's go. You gotta go this way and this way...you feel okay. Alright, let's sit for a minute. I'll put my skis on and we'll...we'll try this again. All right.

Brett Barry  19:44  
Many thanks to Julia and Todd and Nicholas and to everyone at the Adaptive Sports Foundation. If you'd like to know more, check out adaptivesportsfoundation.org. Kaatscast is a biweekly production of Silver Hollow Audio. Be sure to subscribe and stay tuned for our next episode on living harmoniously with our Catskills black bears because it's just about that time of year again. Until then, I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.