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National Sports Center for the Disabled

National Sports Center for the Disabled

By Jane Sowerby

The National Sports Center for the Disabled is one of the largest therapeutic recreation agencies in the world, based in Winter Park, Colorado.  They offer a variety of year-round sports and recreational adventures for participants with physical, cognitive and behavioral disabilities, helping them realise the depth of their abilities while improving overall health and well-being. Participants improve endurance, coordination and competitive skills, as well as build self-esteem and confidence. They become empowered.

I was first introduced to the NSCD in 2005, just over a year after breaking my back. They introduced me to adaptive alpine skiing and gave me drive and ambition again. I dedicated the next few years to alpine ski racing, competing for Team GB at World Cups, World Championships and the Winter Paralympics in 2010.

After retiring from alpine racing, I began to volunteer for the NSCD and helped them develop the Bridge Programme, designed to assist an athlete’s transition from recreational skiing to race training with the NSCD Competition Programme, or simply to assist an athlete’s transition to full independence so they may enjoy the hill with their friends or family.

This season, I returned again to Winter Park and encouraged several British disabled skiers to join the programme. It has been incredible working with them so far, witnessing the same positive impact that mono-skiing had on me. I can already see some potential future GB medal winners and look forward to supporting them along the way!

One of my current students is Sophie Morgan, TV presenter and disability campaigner. Sophie had this to say:

“Out in Winter Park in Colorado with the NSCD Bridge Program learning to monoski. I can’t begin to explain how hard I find skiing - trying to balance on one ski when I’m paralysed from the chest down and have no core stability makes things challenging to say the least! But when it’s good it’s the best feeling in the world! I have a long way to go, but practice makes perfect! It’s amazing to be taught by a Paralympian who understands the physical challenges of a spinal cord injury”

Jack Simms also came out to join the programme, after I met him on an Access Adventures camp last summer. He was a young mountain biker who was paralysed after an accident in the French Alps. Following his rehab at Salisbury Spinal Unit, he turned to sport to rebuild his life. Jack is very coachable when it comes to disabled skiing and is a pleasure to work with. I’m encouraging him to think about following a career in ski racing, he definitely has the need for speed!

A previous student on the Bridge Programme, Laurie Squirrell, has already started her path towards racing. She is currently training with the NSCD Competition Programme. The Competition Program is based on the same teaching principals used for able bodied competitive ski racing organisations. It involves on-snow, and dry land cross training. NSCD Coaches train athletes with visual impairments, amputations, paraplegia, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, post-polio and congenital disabilities.

Laurie says that NSCD has been life changing, it gave her ambition again!  And both the town and resort of Winter Park has made it so easy, all the facilities are close by and accessible so all the worry of traveling has been removed.  Laurie has committed the next 6 years to alpine ski training and racing – planning to “winter hop” until she can compete in the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing and “Bring home gold!”. Laurie got her first podium finish at the US Nationals this week in Park City, Utah!

It’s been such a privilege to work with these inspiring athletes, watching them grow and learn. I’m grateful for the opportunity and respect all the amazing work that the National Sports Center for the Disabled do.