BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (KDVR) — More than a dozen kids from Florida recently got the chance to experience the mountain resort life here in Colorado, thanks in part to Southwest Airlines and Wheelchairs 4 Kids and adaptive skiing programs.
Madeline Robinson is the executive director of Wheelchairs 4 Kids, a Tampa-based nonprofit she co-founded 11 years ago to improve the lives of children with disabilities.
In December, it was one of 52 nonprofits recognized by Southwest Airlines through a national competition designed to reward organizations for the work they do in their communities. The carrier donated 100 domestic travel awards to each contest winner.
Robinson decided to use the tickets to fly 18 students from Wheelchairs 4 Kids and their parents to Colorado to introduce them to adaptive skiing, a sport these children would otherwise never have a chance to experience on their own.
“We never ever dreamed that we would be in Colorado in the snow, skiing. So, this is the most amazing thing that we have ever done,” Robinson said.
As the steady snow fell at Breckenridge Ski Resort, a group of nine students was loaded into bi-skis or seated on ski-bikes, adaptive ski equipment designed for people who use wheelchairs or have difficulty walking.
Robinson slowly wandered through the crowd that had gathered. She was beaming with pride.
“They’re in a wheelchair most of their life. They don’t get to do things (that most kids get to do outdoors). And here, gosh, they’re going down!” Robinson exclaimed. “And one of them even said they went down a black, on a sit-ski.”
Once the students were strapped into their equipment, each child was tethered to an instructor from the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center. Another guide accompanied them as they worked their way down the mountain.
This hands-on personalized instruction covered everything from getting onto and off a chair lift to carving turns on the slopes.
Ski program director Jeff Inouye said kids in the program left a lasting impression on his staff.
“The combination of never skiing before, some of them never seeing snow, I think that’s what just what makes it such a great experience,” Inouye said.
For these kids, this was the trip of a lifetime. Adaptive skiing in Colorado is something that they will never forget.
“I’m going to tell people that I had the most awesome experience ever,” 13-year-old Kiley Griggs said.
“Amazing” is how Angelina Jesselli described her two-day experience in Breckenridge. The 13-year-old said she plans to return to Colorado to give adaptive skiing another shot.
“I am, yeah definitely,” she told Outdoor Colorado.
Now that’s a story we call all look forward to.