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Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA), held its 24th annual The Hartford Ski Spectacular December 4–11, 2011, in Breckenridge, Colorado. More than 700 participants from 30 states, 47 DSUSA chapters, and nine countries descended on Beaver Run Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort for the eight-day event, one of the largest winter sports festivals for people with disabilities.
First-time skiers, the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Team members, and wounded warriors attended the event. One of the youngest first-time participants was Brad Humphrey, a 17-year-old from Indianapolis, Indiana, who was injured during the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair on August 13, 2011.
Two new events at the 2011 ski spectacular were sled hockey and curling. Sled hockey is designed for individuals with paraplegia who wear full sets of hockey gear and sit on special sleds with runners. According to DSUSA, the sport is also making an impact on some of the National Hockey League teams—the Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, and the Pittsburg Penguins—that are allowing sled hockey players to wear their jerseys. For curling, players in wheelchairs use long, narrow sticks to slide a smooth, round stone down the ice toward a bull's-eye target at the opposite end of the rink.
The wounded warrior program continues to be a growing success, said Kirk Bauer, JD, DSUSA executive director. More than 100 veterans and their families attended the 2011 Ski Spectacular, including one veteran who was injured in October.
The Ski Spectacular "is a blessing" for medical facilities and the staff who treat veterans who have been injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, said Bauer, a Vietnam veteran who lost his left leg above the knee during a grenade attack in 1969.
"This has become a marquee event for amputees because they can get out of the hospital for a few days and lose the daily routine of doctors and medicine," he said. "The hospital staff always sees a great adjustment in patients once they come back."
Harvey Naranjo, OTA, with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), Bethesda, Maryland, has been working at the event for the last nine years.
"The event is phenomenal," said Naranjo, who works with many of the wounded warriors who come, including Cameron Kerr, 24, a lieutenant in the Army who is still on active duty. Kerr stepped on an improvised-explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in February 2011 and lost his left leg above the knee.
"When I found out about this, I definitely wanted to go," said Kerr, who skied as a child and snowboarded for the first time in Breckenridge. "It hurt a little, but it was awesome."
Nadine Hanbury, who traveled from her home in the United Kingdom to work at the event, gets the best of both worlds—traveling and helping people with disabilities. She has been traveling to Breckenridge and working at the event since 2002. Hanbury started as an intern with Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, which provides outdoor learning experiences to people of all abilities with a special focus to those who are disabled. She says she learned about the job from the website, www.cooljobs.com. Hanbury trained to become a ski instructor for people with disabilities during her first year at the Ski Spectacular. She had only skied once when she was 13 years old. The program pairs people trained to work with the disabled with those who are advanced skiers.
"It is nice because you share your skills," she said.
The 25th annual Ski Spectacular will be held December 2–9, 2012, in Breckenridge, Colorado.