There was a time that if the snow was falling Matt Tilford was bound to be found sailing down the powdery slopes on his snowboard. But a car accident just two weeks shy of his high school graduation left Tilford a paraplegic and it seemed his days of sliding down the mountains would only live on in his dreams. But that was before Tilford ever heard of the Society for Disabilities Winter Skiing Unlimited program.
The Winter Skiing Unlimited is a program for disabled children and adults that allows them access to the sport of snow skiing. From January through March hundreds of volunteers and participants make the trek to Dodge Ridge on a routine basis for a few hours of fun on the snow. With the help of trained volunteers, expert skiers, and adapted equipment, participants are able to enjoy the exhilarating freedom of skiing down the slopes.
“It is my favorite program,” said Marci Boucher, the Society’s executive director. “It changes their lives. They see they can do things other people can do and that builds to other things. For some, it might be the only fun thing they get to do all year. I had one father crying because it was the first sport he was able to do with his 16-year-old son.”
The program is fully funded through donations and only operational through the efforts of hard-working volunteers, Boucher said. It costs the Society around $10,000 each year to put the program together. There is no cost for participants, though they must be a minimum of 7 years old and weigh a maximum of 180 pounds to participate in Winter Skiing Unlimited.
“For the most part there are no disabilities that are too severe for us to accommodate,” Boucher said.
For every one participating skier, the program needs about four volunteers, but Boucher said recruiting and keeping volunteers has never been too big of a challenge.
“The volunteers get so much out of the experience,” Boucher said. “To make it happen for someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in the sport is such a rewarding feeling.”
That’s not to say that the participants aren’t having their fair share of enjoyment and reward.
“For so long I pushed myself away from the disabled community,” Tilford said. “But when I started this program it gave me some encouragement. I was in and out of depression and to see other people with disabilities still having fun and being active really gave me a needed boost.”
To join or volunteer with the Winter Skiing Unlimited program visithttp://societyforhandicapped.org/