PARK CITY — Teenage amputees from around the world have converged on Park City Mountain Resort this week, learning new skills and making connections with other youths who understand the challenges they face.
The participants have been hitting the slopes by day and going swimming and bowling at night as part of a skiing and snowboarding camp held by Shriners Hospitals for Children.
The 16 youths ages 13-18 at the Un-Limb-ited Amputee Camp hail from as far away as Chile, but each receives prosthetic and limb treatment in Salt Lake City.
Shriners is in its eighth year of providing the five-day camp, which is funded by donations to the hospital's activity fund and is free for the teenagers and their families.
"Almost across the board, there are no other amputees in these kids' schools or their towns," said Matt Lowell, camp co-director. "It's good to come together and talk about the same challenges, the same stories. It's fun to see kids just totally become at ease and comfortable being themselves with each other."
The teens spend four hours per day with specially trained skiing and snowboarding instructors from the National Ability Center.
Camp participant Santiago Vega has qualified to represent Chile's ski team in the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, and others are striving for similar goals.
"I just love being able to hit the slopes fast," said Centerville resident Kristine Littlefield, 16, who is attending the camp for a third time. "The instructors have really pushed us and been helpful and nice."
But the camp isn't held primarily for competition. About half of the teens are still trying out the bunny hill. For the more experienced skiers and snowboarders, the rush of flying down the mountain becomes the main draw, but participants initially sign up to find friends who understand their situation.
"Especially now with social media, these guys are on Facebook with each other, and they text each other even after camp," said Laura Lewis, co-director of the camp. "When they go to school and they have a hard day, they've got some sort of support system to turn to. They (can say), 'It's all right. Someone knows exactly how I'm feeling in this situation.'"
Oakley Doyle, 13, of Riverton, is taking part in the camp for the first time. Oakley said she felt at home with the other teenagers from day one.
"I like all the kids that are in (the camp) because they were so welcoming," she said. "The second I walked in, I already had friends."
Daniella Jimenez, 17, of El Paso, Texas, has been enjoying her third and final year at the camp. She said her job is be a role model to the amputees with less experience.
"None of our situations are exactly the same," she said. "But in one way or another, you can relate to another person, just as far as how it happened or an experience you had that was similar. … The other kids will hear you've gone through the same things they have, so they can relate to you and look up to you at some point."
Necia Wiggins, who has volunteered with the camp for three years, said spending time around the amputees has changed her perspective on life.
"It just refreshes your soul to be with these kids," Wiggins said. "It's amazing to hear how well they cope with the cards they've been dealt with."