Viewing entries tagged
adaptive sports

No Barriers

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No Barriers

Several months ago, I discovered an organization called No Barriers, whose tagline has now become my mantra and part of my email signature –

"What's within you is stronger than what’s in your way."

No Barriers is based on the idea that, for people with all sorts of abilities, participating in and conquering adventure sports increases self-efficacy and self-esteem. By offering over 50 adaptive adventure sports for people with disabilities, they empower people to break through their barriers, find their inner purpose, and contribute their very best to this world.

No Barriers' biggest event each year is called The Summit. They invite people with disabilities to come to a place of beauty and adventure. The locale changes each year, but this year it's in Lake Tahoe, California.

 On their website, The Summit is described and promoted as follows:

 "At the 4-day No Barriers Summit, you’ll be embraced by a community that knows what’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way. There will be speakers who ignite your passion, innovations that push your perceptions, and activities that shatter barriers...with a supportive community to help you along the way.

As many know, I have been trying to build a business of public and motivational speaking. So, I decided to 'shoot for the moon' and apply to be one of their speakers.

With high hopes, I sent an email to a mutual friend to introduce myself, as well as send a link to my website and speaking samples. Unfortunately, the event planner wrote back with the news that they had already lined up the speakers for this year's Summit. 

However, this event planner was incredibly helpful with constructive ideas for improving my skills, target audiences, industry contacts, and promotional materials. She also said that I should definitely attend the event, even bring my whole family! She just knew we would love it and be forever changed by it.

"Ha! Ha!" I thought. "Like we could ever afford for me to go, let alone bring my whole family." In what I thought was a pretty snarky and sarcastic tone, I replied to her email with the question,

"Do you have scholarships for stay-at-home moms from suburbia, North Carolina?"

 "Yes;" she wrote, "actually, we do!" And she included a link to the application.

"What?!?!... Seriously?!?! I was really sort of kidding!" I thought.

But, of course, I applied. Maintaining my "shoot for the moon" idea, I applied for a full, all-expenses paid, (even all the adventure sports!), trip for my entire family of seven.

It was a pretty extensive application process - reference letters from friends, colleagues, and doctors; essays, photographs, pay stubs (the scholarships are need-based in addition to the other qualifying factors), and a link to my web site and blog. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and I knew that getting the full scholarship was a long shot.

Regardless of my low chances, I applied.  And the waiting game was on.

But then I had a lengthy phone conversation with the director of development; and she explained that there are actually some extremely generous donors who love to sponsor whole families! I couldn't imagine this level of generosity; but I sure was moved by it.

The sweet, kind, development director told me a story of the first time she attended the event. She herself is blind. And she had grown accustomed to vacations with her own family where she would sit on the beach and wave goodbye to her family as they would leave for a nice long walk (or any of the big vacation activities, for that matter). She had grown acccustomed to waiting around while everyone else got to participate. She explained how, on the No Barriers trip; for the first time, she was the one participating while her kids sat back with eyes wide open at seeing her soar over all the barriers that had previously stood in her way.

After talking to her, I couldn't help but feel encouraged. And empowered. And hopeful.

"If we get to go," I thought,  "it will be the epic family adventure. Four of my kids have never even been on an airplane before, let alone gotten to see or do things like skiing, mountain biking, white water rafting, or kayaking. In Lake Tahoe of all places!!!"

And so I waited. And dreamed. And waited. And waited some more.

But, eventually, I was starting to look for the thin envelope in the mail - the one with the letter that would thank me for applying, tell me there were a record number of qualified applicants this year, and encourage me to apply again next year.

But then, it happened. I got the phone call. That call I'd been waiting for!

We won!!! We get to go!!!

I'm a bit embarrassed by my reaction. I must have sounded like a schoolgirl... But here's what I said:

"For real?"

"I mean, like, for real, for real?"

 She must have laughed out loud.

 But, it's  FOR REAL!

** Post Script: We leave tomorrow. It's a good thing that excitement and anticipation produce adrenaline and energy. Because I'll be up all night packing for myself and five kids! Check back here for details of my trip. Or just follow my husband on Facebook or Instagram...

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 I am a Skier

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I am a Skier

Last month, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the New Dimensions Scholarship, offered by the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango, Colorado. It is offered to "people with a physical disability and/or progressive disease who regularly participate in athletic activities, are able to travel to Durango, and are new to disabled skiing or snowboarding." 

The scholarship includes an all-expense-paid trip and four full days of skiing. Lucky me, right?

The first day is set aside for equipment and clothing fitting; and, considering my many physical challenges, I fully expected for this part to take the better part of the day. But my two expert instructors had me dressed and ready to go by 10:30am!

While I was hoping to come down the slopes standing on two skis, there was no guarantee. Other options include ski bikes (a type of bicycle with skis for wheels and two additional skis on your feet that are used for balancing) as well as mono skis and bi skis.

Here is Ginger, my new friend who has Multiple Sclerosis and is skillfully riding a ski bike.

And here are my new friends Reggie and Jake, both of whom have paralysis and some mad skills on bi skis.

While I was able to get up on two standard skis, I wasn't able to go nearly as fast or nearly as far up the mountain as my counterparts.

But ski I did; and I surprised myself by doing it successfully before lunch on the very first day! At this point, you are probably asking, "How, on Earth, was she able to do that?" 

Well, as is the case with most of the things I do, I had a lot of help! On that first day, I had one skier in front of me, one behind me, and sometimes even one whose job was to hang out around me and protect me from out-of-control skiers and snowboarders. 

My amazing instructors (Susan, Brian, Paula, John, and Adele) had been doing this for many years, and they quickly and easily connected a strap to the tip of each ski. With those tethers, they were able to steer me like a horse! In addition, they dressed me in a child-sized emergency vest so that they could slow my pace or even stop me if I started to fall! Here is a picture of me with my tethers - while I do look a bit unbalanced, I was all smiles!

I had full confidence in my helpers. In fact, I loved and trusted them so much that I am now convinced that all those 80's love songs were written about adaptive ski instructors! 

Here I am with my two main instructors, Susan and Paula.

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Another "strap" I needed that most skiers don't need is the one we used to hold my left leg (the prosthetic one) while I was riding the chair lift. Since my prosthetic is only attached to my residual leg by suction, the increased force of gravity could easily have won the tug of war with my body - meaning my prosthetic leg and its ski could have fallen off, down into the mountainous woods or even on top of an innocent skier! Not ideal. 

So, to prevent that from happening (and to protect the entire mountain!) my instructor had to literally lasso my ski and then hold the strap very tightly - not easy when the winds picked up, but it proved be be a fun game ;).

With each hour of each day, my instructors used the tethers less and less. By Day Two, I got to take off the emergency vest. And I even went short distances without tethers. (They call that "independent skiing," but that's just fancy talk for "skiing without any adaptive equipment" or "skiing like a normal person.")

On Day Two, I mastered the skill of getting on and off the chair lift. Except for that one time when my arm slipped off, I lost my balance, fell, and really freaked out the college-aged lift operator. Which made for a  great story that night at the brewery. Who else can use that for an excuse as to why she fell while skiing?

On Days Three and Four, I continued to improve. I was able to ride the bigger, higher, and longer lifts all the way to the top of the mountain. Aside from the prosthetic problems that landed me at the Hanger Prosthetic Clinic in downtown Durango, everything went quite well. My muscles remembered how to ski from TWENTY years ago. What a miracle!

As the days quickly passed, my team of instructors used the tethers less and less. On my fourth and final day, we were able to unhook all of them. And I got to ski, free from all of the adaptations and devices that were helping me to ski more normally.

Check out my big smile in the following video:

Just like Pinnochio, I "got no strings!" Just like Pinnochio was a "Real Boy," I became a real skier! I regained my athletic confidence as well as my self confidence. I re-learned how to appreciate and love my body. I rejoiced in all that my body can do and all that I can do. Instead of wallowing in the fact that my body is mostly man-made, I recognized my spirit, my heart, and my soul that have been there all along, just waiting to be realized. 

Both in spite of and because of the people and the things that assist me along the way, I am Kristan.

I am Kristan. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am an athlete. I am an amputee. And, now I am a skier.

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See Kristan Ski!

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See Kristan Ski!

A few months ago, my virtual friend Ian Warshak told me about a program in Colorado that helps people with disabilities learn to ski. He said they were accepting applications, and he sent me the website for the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango. This remarkable organization uses athletic pursuits to enrich the lives of those with disabilities while spreading a message of hope and showing the world all that we are ABLE to do. Their mission is right up my alley, huh? 

ASA Durango offers out-of-state scholarships to athletes with disabilities that include an all-expenses paid trip - airfare, lodging, meals, and four days of skiing with a private instructor. Um, yes please!

On a whim, I applied. I had no idea what my chances were, but I figured there were a lot of people in the whole country that would love to go. So I filled out the college-like application, forgot about it, and went about my too-busy life. 

Then, on a Sunday afternoon, I was driving home from running some errands, and I got a phone call that popped up as a Colorado phone number.  I thought, "Who do I know from Colora..." Before I could finish my thought, I remembered my pending application! The super-duper nice woman who was calling said she had a few questions for me! She asked, I answered; and, by the end of our conversation, it was fairly clear that I would be going to Colorado!  

That was two weeks ago, and I am leaving for my big trip tomorrow, Monday January 11th.The quick turnaround really threw me, but it is probably for the best that I not have more time to anticipate and become apprehensive. 

Going somewhere alone, without my husband who takes cares of me, is an adventure all its own! Brook puts my leg on every morning, he buttons my clothes, and he makes my heaven-blessed coffee. What will I do without him? I think I am more scared of the independence than the actual skiing! 

My itinerary is that I will fly straight into Durango, Colorado, and I'll get in right after lunch. I'll use the afternoon and evening to adjust to the time zone and altitude as well as get to know my host family. This husband, wife, and 12 year-old son open their home every year to the program participants, and I can't wait to get to know them. I'll stay with them for five nights. On Tuesday through Friday I will, along with a few other people with disabilities like paralysis and MS, ski from 9 until 4; then I will relax with my new family each night. Then I'll travel home on Saturday to share my experience!

"Excited" doesn't begin to describe my feelings toward my week in the Colorado mountains. This is an adventure that I would never get to explore before my disabilities. And it will be all the more rich, empowering, and memorable because of them.

Check back here for updates and pictures. To be continued...

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