All of us know the joy of exercising our bodies and experiencing nature at her best. We take for granted being able to exercise our bodies or choose activities we want to participate in. For those in the broad spectrum of special needs, the possibilities narrow.
There are programs and people who care about these individuals. Here is one I’d like to tell you about.
Twenty-eight years ago some clients of my brother Bob Steed, Teri and Ed Heinrich, asked him if our son Steve and his best buddies, Lee Johnson and Jim Herrmann, would come to a charity dinner for a ski event at Snowbird Resort.
They were only too happy to get a free day of skiing and a good dinner. What this tenderhearted trio didn’t realize was, as the old adage goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
After meeting the kids with special needs and the people involved with the adaptive sports program at Snowbird, it became a yearly ritual and they have supported it for the last 26 years. They added friends Chad Lewis and Junior Bryant, as well as other friends at times through the years who contributed time and money.
Most of what the adaptive sports program is able to accomplish is funded by a yearly ski event, auction and dinner. However, running programs at Snowbird Resort both summer and winter keeps the two dedicated individuals in charge of the program, executive director Peter Mandler and assistant director Laura Cantin, extremely busy.
The mission at Wasatch Adaptive Sports is “to provide year round educational and therapeutic recreation for children, adults and veterans with special needs.”
At the ski event this year, I met a young couple, Josh and Trista Sterner, waiting for their 6-year-old triplets to participate. Audrey was strapped into a seat attached to skis ready for her ride while Ryan awaited his turn.
I watched as Courtney, who is not a special needs child, encouraged her two siblings and kept them comfortable. It was a joyful family outing for them.
After Ryan went down the ski hill and came to where we were standing, he excitedly said “more, more.” He will rarely speak, but when he likes something he calls for “more,” his mother told me.
Each year after the skiing there is an awards ceremony where Steve has traditionally presented medals to all the participants. These medals are counted as treasures to them.
At the dinner that evening, a mother spoke while her husband showed how his small son tried to walk and how discouraged he got after a time. The child’s doctor recommended adaptive sports recreation therapy to help strengthen his legs so he eventually will be able to walk.
She said, “My doctors are convinced, as am I, that this program is having a lasting impact on his ability to develop critical motor skills, and therefore also on his long-term quality of life.”
Another mother Jane Smart, whose 17-year-old daughter Sarah has been attending since she was 5 years old, believes, “The most important thing Sarah has learned from her interactions with Wasatch is that people matter. They deserve to be noticed and made to feel of value. Sarah told me that she wants to be able to make other kids with disabilities feel as important as these wonderful people have made her feel over the years.”
These caring and hard-working parents have observed how much their struggling children are strengthened both mentally and physically by participating in the various programs.
As to the veterans, Cantin said, “We continue this mission on a daily basis here at Wasatch Adaptive Sports. We have seen tremendous healing take place.
"Our veterans are regaining trust in others. They are enjoying camaraderie with other veterans, something lacking for many since they returned from war. They are experiencing emotion again, feeling joy and sharing laughter. Our veterans are reconnecting with nature while enjoying all types of recreation in the outdoors.
"In the winter we have alpine and adaptive skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. In the summer we have camping retreats, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, road biking, hand cycling, swimming and paddle boarding.
"As our veterans enjoy sports and learn new skills and learn to have fun again, many decide to make positive life changes. They focus on being healthy and getting in shape.”
The young participants are helped to improve a life; the veterans are getting their life back. For these parents, children and veterans, miracles can happen.