The following is Part IV 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.
Friday morning came quickly and we piled in our bus and van to Crested Butte Mountain for our last day of skiing. This mountain had been our “morning star” all week: we woke up to the sun rising above it some days, tried to find its snow covered peak on others, swam with it as our photo backdrop, and frequently walked passed it carrying souvenirs. The group became familiar with Crested Butte’s various trails and knew the lifts they had to take to get to their favorite slopes. Who knew our Big Apple Skiers would accomplish so much on one mountain, far from their comfort zone in NYC. Multiple voices shouted out, “I am so sad today is our last day.” Max, one of our return skiers with cerebral palsy, even asked if we could extend our trip to 2 weeks next year. At the same time, we couldn’t be sad for long as we received our final welcome by the Adapted Sports Center crew and their “Happy Valentine’s Day!” exclamations. How fitting it was to spend our last day on the slopes with our ASC family on this special holiday. Even the guides managing the ski lifts wore roses and hearts on their jackets. I was quickly reminded of Krystal, our pediatric rehabilitation technician at HSS, and thought how well she would fit in here with the enthusiasm and love she portrays every day at HSS. We didn’t want to rush our day skiing, but were excited to see the culmination of our experiences here illustrated in the famous photo slideshow and award ceremony at the end of the day similar to that of last year.
In the morning, I capitalized on the opportunity to ski with each of the teens and their guides, taking photos and videos that captured their unique advancements since day one. I am fortunate enough to have worked with most members of the group in individual physical therapy sessions at Hospital for Special Surgery, gaining an awareness of their individual strengths and weaknesses. I have to say, much like the therapists at HSS, the instructors did not take it easy on the group on their last morning, challenging them to new trails and exercising their bodies to maintain their balance with less adapted equipment just as I had described with Daniel and Valeria’s experiences in the previous blog. (And they weren’t the only ones, see below.)
I thoroughly enjoyed the slopes of Colorado as a skier and physical therapist, and was excited to take what I learned back home to HSS. In one week at Crested Butte, I had not only learned from the ASC’s instructors’ ability to individualize ski equipment, apply safe body mechanics, and utilize physics on the slopes to cue for turns and stops, but I also learned from their passion and caring nature. Their attention to personal limits, patience, motivation, adaptability, and creativity with coaching their students was top-class. Skiers were never hurried down the mountain and were allowed to rest in the snow after a fall. Yes, our skiers and snowboarders did fall once in a while! Just as we allow our patients to practice balance reactions in the HSS gym, fall gently, and practice getting back up, our group was instructed on falling techniques and getting back up from the snow. We were thankful for the fresh powder after all.
Rosemary, another return skier from last year (17 year old with cerebral palsy), was fearless in her attempts to practice making full right and left turns zigzagging down the mountain. She had fun with her falls and may have made a snow angel or two, earning herself the award, “Determination, Motivation, and Great Wipeouts.”
We heard about Keith’s, our teenager with a lower extremity prosthesis, new experiences as a snowboarder in Christine’s blog. Keith stayed focused after his first days and started looking like a natural by the end of the week, shifting toe-edge, back-edge, and turning while maintaining upright. A snowboarder only learns this after falling and getting back up; therefore Keith was awarded with “Dust Yourself off and Try Again,” both due to his skills on the slopes and to reflect on the song that complements his musical nature.
Bob and Mike were passionate to allow Sara, 10 year old girl with cerebral palsy, to turn with more freedom in her sit-ski, and this threesome kept everyone laughing with their goal of wearing a new hat on the slopes each day. Everyone knew Chicken Sara, Lady Bug Sara, Dinosaur Sara, and Princess Sara, so much so that she was awarded, “Lady of Many Hats.” They laughed so hard all week that they made a promise to ski together next year.
Cristina, Sara’s older sister, successfully progressed from green trails to blue trails on this trip. Her turns were smoother and she was less scared to ski when the hills became steeper. Cristina plans to take her “Young, Wild, and Free” award back to the slopes in New York with the support of her mom, “The Italian Stallion.”
It was easy to see that emphasizing safety on the mountain while having fun was the goal of all the instructors. Daniela, a ski instructor at The Adapted Sports Center, had a unique ability to click with her protege, Oceane, a first time skier. Oceane, a 13 year old girl with cerebral palsy, recently had an injury requiring her to use a walker. She worked hard to increase her strength and confidence to return to walking without a walker and she was motivated to ski from the get-go. Oceane quickly learned how to manipulate the outriggers, encouraged by Daniela’s iPod playlist consisting of One Direction’s hit song “She’s Not Afraid.” Oceane frequently requested to ski the next challenging trail when one became easy for her, earning herself the award “Go, go, go!” Oceane sometimes cruised down the mountain so fast I couldn’t even catch her on video!
Erin and Max, two young adults with cerebral palsy, thoroughly enjoyed their skiing experiences as much as last year’s. Sometimes they navigated a trail alone with their instructors and other times they glided down together or at least met up half way. By the end of the week, Erin was successful in making her right turns stronger and not only was presented with the “Carve Master” award, but also the “Mansion Shopper” award due to her passion for skiing and desire to come back. Erin is already on that track as she plans to ski in Crested Butte again this March with a women’s group.
Max persevered through a sore toe in his boot and dominated many different trails on the front side of the mountain. Max loved to ski straight and fast and although he was presented with the “Max Speed” award, I saw firsthand how Max improved his control with side-to-side turns, which will allow him to advance safely to new trails in the future.
All-inclusive in their nature, the instructors at ASC did not forget to present awards to the therapists from HSS. Magda, already an experienced skier, challenged herself to new levels at Crested Butte tackling the altitude. As she has successfully brought two groups from NY to Crested Butte, Magda was appropriately granted “Our Fearless Leader” award. On her snowboard, Christine was determined to be better than average, and she kept us on our toes with dressing in the morning and safely getting on and off the bus. Therefore, Christine was titled “Miss All A-Board.” I must have gone a little overboard, myself, with the excitement, cheering, and snapshot taking as I was presented with “Miss Spunk and Spark.” I’ll take it!
Soaking in our final moments, we continued our celebrations together and decorated the sugar cookie hearts we had baked the night before with our ASC instructors, choosing between chocolate and strawberry icing, sprinkles, and chocolate chips. Although each of us was searching for independence when we left NY several days before, there was awareness that no one could have conquered what he or she had alone. In appreciation, instead of devouring his or her own cookie, each person dedicated their cookie to one of their new friends. For a last hoorah, one of the ASC instructors suggested a “Group Run” down the mountain. Two tired bodies who had debated skiing the afternoon decided, “We want to ski again with our team, it’s our last day together.” With that, everybody slid over to The Red Lady Express lift, posed at the top for a group photo, and zig-zagged down the mountain with their unique equipment cheering and giving high-fives when they met up with another member of the HSS team.
Despite all the fun and skills learned in Crested Butte, Big Apple Skiers did have to return to New York. Saturday morning was jam packed literally with packing our suitcases and leaving the house we rented ready for the next group of skiers. We hopped in our vans for lunch in Gunnison before the airport, and I have to say our group of young adults looked like professionals. On the return flights to NYC, I couldn’t help but observe even our tired skiers were navigating through the airport and the aisles of the plane with greater agility and speed, gathering their jackets and backpacks with less cueing from their chaperones, and happily sitting with new friends sharing IPod ear buds. We happened to come full circle and pose again by that very same HSS advertisement in LaGuardia Airport before picking up our suitcases. Thoughts of independence, cross-training, family, and teamwork ran through my head. As a take on Christine’s opening paragraph to her blog CONQUERING THE MOUNTAIN 2014: RETURN TO CRESTED BUTTE PART II and as a spin-off of the new HSS advertisement series, “Where the World Comes to Get Back in the Game,” I see for our special group, HSS Pediatric Rehabilitation is “Where Children and Young Adults Come to Get IN the Game.” The Game is on for Crested Butte 2015!