The main event of our Park City, Utah visit: Max got to do adaptive skiing via The National Ability Center. I only found out about the NAC a few months ago, and as I read through the website and its many offerings, I was floored... and wishing we had a center like that near us.
The NAC offers sports programs and outdoor activities for people of all ages and all abilities, 17 different programs in all. It's based at the Bronfman Family Recreation Center & Ranch on 26 acres of donated land. Gotta love the address: 1000 Ability Way. The activities are year round: adaptive alpine and cross-counry skiing, snowboarding, aquatics, archery, cycling, equestrian programs, sled hockey and water skiing. There's also an Alpine Ski Team—which snagged 11 medals at this year's U.S. Disabled Nationals in Idaho—and a hockey team. And rafting and camping trips. And summer camps.
Suddenly, New York seemed like such a boring place to live.
On this trip, we were all about adaptive skiing. Max has tried it several times; the last time he liked it but bailed the minute he saw Dave, and didn't want to go back. I didn't know what to expect, and I had extreme meltdown dread, but I wanted Max to give it a go again. Sports help build confidence in any kids, but for kids with physical challenges, I think they can be extra ego-boosting. Also, I figured that if anyplace could coax Max into skiing, a place called the National Ability Center could.
Before our trip, I sent in a participant packet. It included questions about physical and sensory concerns, behavioral tendencies, level of cognition and processing, medical info, favorite activities, fears/dislikes and Family Dos and Dont's. I will not bore you with the details except to say that I repeatedly mentioned Lightning McQueen, Cars 2 and purple. I requested a guy for an instructor; I thought a dude would inspire him. Though I did not write "dude."
There are a variety of lesson options; we booked three afternoon lessons for Max, from 1 to 4, at $100 each (if you know the cost of ski lessons, you know that is a real bargain). The first one was at Park City Mountain Resort and the other two, at Deer Valley Resort's Snow Lodge
Let's start with the happy fact that Max did not wig out when we walked into the NAC's ski center at Park City Mountain Resort. We'd already gotten ski and boot rentals at Deer Valley Resort. The instructor, Kevin, met us in the ski shop, and Max gave him a big smile hello. In his second season with the NAC, Kevin was like the Pied Piper on skis. He helped put on Max's boots, and charmed him by showing him a purple rope thingie he'd use to guide him (note, not its official name).
After we headed outside, Kevin explained about putting on skis and helped Max into them. Kevin was a middle school science teacher for three years, and he has a highly evolved level of patience. Next he gave Max a big rubber wheel and told him to steer it right for going right, and left for going left—which would help him automatically move his skis in those directions. And then? He told Max that he was Lightning McQueen in a race.
Look! A blissed-out, skiing Lightning McQueen!
A little pep talk
Riding the magic carpet. This part was a bit tricky for Max; he fell a couple of times and once, he dropped straight backward—you know, like people do in trust falls. Kevin was right behind him, of course. Max thought this was really funny, even though I almost had a heart attack.
Kevin guided Max downhill with the purple rope thingie.
Soon enough, Max was pointing to the lift and telling us he wanted to go on it. "Not yet," said Kevin. The two of them hung out alone for Max's second and third lessons and Max did get to go on a lift, daredevil that he is.
Skiing is generally an exhilarating sport: there's that feeling of lightness and freedom you experience when you zoom downhill, that head rush of speed. But let me tell you, nothing compares to the exhilaration of seeing your child with cerebral palsy skiing. "MAX!!! YOU'RE SKIING!!!" I must have shouted a dozen times. Gleeful, I was.
A couple days later, I headed to the NAC campus with my pal Bari Nan—my pilgrimage to a special needs mecca. (OK, really, it was about 10 minutes away from where we were staying.)
The indoor climbing wall, a popular activity for birthday parties.
The accessible playground (not so popular in winter)
The commons area in the Lodge at the Ranch, on the NAC grounds. It's a glorious 20,000 square feet, with 26 fully-accessible guest rooms open to NAC participants and their families. There's a big kitchen/dining room area, too.
Back view of the lodge
The heated, 17,000-square-foot equestrian arena and barn. The NAC offers three forms of equine-assisted therapies and activities: therapeutic riding, hippoterhapy, and equine- facilitated learning. Lessons take place six days a week, year round, and are typically lead by occupational therapists.
My new friend Sarah, who has a two-year-old with cerebral palsy, recently started bringing him here for hippotherapy. At first, Charlie was scared. Max also used to do therapeutic riding at his age, and we'd been through the same thing. But like Max, the horse soon won Charlie over, as you can see. Go, Charlie!
"I feel so fortunate to have the National Ability Center in our 'backyard,'" says Sarah. "From the moment I met the therapists, handlers and staff, I knew I could trust them implicitly with Charlie's care. I look forward to sharing my passion for the outdoors with Charlie with the continued assistance and resources of this renowned facility."
Last year, the National Ability Center gave some 20,000 lessons.
Rock on, NAC.
Rock on, Max, and all kids with special powers who show the world that, yes, they can participate in sports—and enjoy them just as much as any kids out there.
Max came home with a new word: "iiing!" ["skiing!"]. And he'd really like to go again.
Any of you live near centers like this? Have your kids tried adaptive sports?