The following is Part III in a series of posts about the Pediatric Rehab team’s ski trip to Crested Butte, Colorado from February 9th-15th, 2014. A group of three pediatric therapists and nine children, teens, and young adults, many of them current and former patients of Hospital for Special Surgery and the Pediatric Rehabilitation Center, went along for the adventure.
As a shout out to our American athletes at the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, even the strongest competitors need a rest day from their sport. Rest doesn’t necessarily mean staying in bed all day; athletes take advantage of cross training to give certain muscles time to regenerate and to improve overall performance. At Crested Butte, the stars of Big Apple Skiers similarly took Wednesday to cross-train their minds and bodies with yoga, swimming, and shopping.
Although Valeria, one of our teen skiers with diplegic cerebral palsy, expressed her passion for skiing by requesting to ski five days in a row next year, each teen was super excited to have an extra hour to sleep in and later be woken up by the smell of Magda‘s perfect pancakes, my crispy bacon, and Christine‘s fresh cut strawberries, blueberries, and bananas.Dina, our yoga instructor, guided our tired ski legs through various poses such as Warrior One, stretched our backs and chests with Cat and Camel, and managed to relax even our facial muscles by roaring with Lion’s Breathe. Just like any yoga class, we breathed into each posture and used blocks and straps to facilitate the necessary stretch and relaxation our muscles and minds deserved after tackling the powdered slopes. Not surprisingly, stretching arms and legs long and laying in savasana, a pose of total relaxation, were the group’s favorites. They earned it!
We unwound ourselves further by soaking our tired bodies in a hot tub on our porch with the breathtaking view of Crested Butte Mountain in the distance, and our savvy New Yorkers conquered the snowy streets of Crested Butte to buy souvenirs for parents and siblings.
As a pediatric physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery, seeing the group navigate a new town not discouraged by snowy and icy sidewalks with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs reminded me of why I love my job. Children and young adults who may have only known each other in a therapy gym setting assisted each other by opening store doors, carrying bags, and crossing the street arm in arm. Who could resist taking a fun break to model the local hat store’s best pieces, sample homemade Crested Butte ice cream at The Third Bowl, and pose beside the Museum Store’s classic gas pump and gum ball machine?
After “break day” in Crested Butte, The Big Apple Skiers came out with a bang on the slopes on Thursday. Just as determination, adaptability, and pursuit are musts for the Olympians in Sochi, our competitors portray these characteristics daily in their drive to do more. Not only did our skiers pick up from where they left off on Tuesday, but also progressed to the next level of their individual skiing ability. Daniel, teen skier with cerebral palsy, demonstrated increased strength and balance by skiing without the back space bar on his sliders, which allowed him to turn with increased independence. His instructor, Christine, further motivated him to ditch the slider and ski only with outriggers and tethers on Friday. Daniel noted, “Wow, I am working so much more than I was before, it feels good.” Mastering skiing with this new equipment would eventually allow him to ski anywhere and coined Daniel, “Ready, Willing, and Able” at the awards ceremony on Friday. Similarly, as Valeria showed her skills of maintaining upright with the slider, she later skied down the mountain without the back bar and front ties giving her the title, “Slider, no slider!” Her goal for next year will be to follow in Daniel’s footsteps and ski with outriggers, which is comparable to progressing from walking with a walker to Lofstrand crutches on the slopes. Rosemary, another teen with diplegic cerebral plasy, practiced turns with only the tactile and verbal cues of her instructor. This type of instruction reminded me of what we do as therapists to facilitate movement patterns and allow individuals to feel their bodies move in a new way. As a second timer, I asked Rosemary how this trip was different from her first time skiing last year. She reported, “I like it better because I am more independent and independence is a big thing for me.”
Our themes of independence and cross-training were brought to the forefront and didn’t end on the mountain that day. The NYC teens had a taste of what it is like to live in the country and improvise, as the satellite TV and Internet would not connect back at the house due to ice on the satellite dish. Although we had been inspired to watch the Olympic Games, the connectivity issues allowed us to hang out like typical teens, which was another goal of our group. Max, Keith, and Rosemary brought their A-game to the pool table, managing their upper bodies to be our lead pool sharks before our Italian Mom, Giuseppina, showed us a thing or two whipping up chicken pesto and pasta. The cultural side of the young New Yorkers came out as we discussed where our names came from, performed karaoke to songs from our iPods, and conversed back and forth from therapy to school to dating. We had been roommates for almost a week now and our guards were down.
The perfect opportunity was born to prepare for Valentine’s Day and bake cookies with our new family. We capitalized on Christine’s handy-dandy chore chart: Daniel showed us his talents in the kitchen measuring and stirring the ingredients while Sara, 10 year old with cerebral palsy, and her sister Christina, demonstrated their rolling, patting, and cookie cutting skills creating sugar hearts. This gave our legs a rest and our core, arms, and fingers a work out as we used more fine-tuned dexterity. We cracked up as one of the boys exclaimed, “Don’t tell my Mom I can do this because then I will have to bake at home!”
After clean up, Christine and I attempted to use our best “Mom voices,” encouraging the group to tuck into bed and save their energy for the final day of skiing.Keith and Daniel’s jokes won the teens over to stay up probably another hour or so. The doors of communication were open and all were relaxed and happy.
Siobhan Clarke is a pediatric physical therapist at the CA Technologies Pediatric Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. Siobhan works closely with orthopedic surgeons, physical and occupational therapists, and social workers in the Leon Root Motion Analysis Lab and at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Cerebral Palsy Clinic.