Northwest NEWS

February 25, 2002

Features

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Outdoor recreation instruction offered for disabled

by Deborah Stone
   Features Writer
   On any given winter weekend, the slopes at Snoqualmie Summit are full of skiers and snowboarders, young and old, actively involved in their outdoor recreation pursuits.
   There are the beginners, just learning how to manipulate themselves on skis or snowboards, the intermediates who attack the slopes with more confidence, and the very advanced who go for the challenging runs with finesse and style.
   Ski schools abound, offering programs for all levels and providing both group and private lessons.
   Among the various instructional schools that make the Summit their home is a unique program called SKIFORALL, one of the largest nonprofit organizations providing year round instruction in outdoor recreation for people with physical, developmental and sensory disabilities.
   SKIFORALL Foundation began in 1979 with 35 downhill skiing participants learning to ski at Snoqualmie, and has grown to an organization serving more than 1,400 children and adults with disabilities.
   It may be best known for winter season instruction in sports like snowboarding snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing. But in addition, the organization also includes instruction in cycling, hiking, canoeing and kayaking, in-line skating, rock climbing, river rafting and camping.
   The Foundation is funded through a combination of individual contributions, fundraising projects, grants and corporate sponsorships, as well as through participant registration fees.
   More than 500 volunteers a year giving over 40,000 hours of their time are responsible for making SKIFORALL a national leader in recreation programs for people with disabilities.
   The organization's activities are aimed at promoting education, independence, socialization, exposure to adaptive equipment and techniques and most of all - toward having lots of outdoor fun!
   The Totonelly family of Woodinville, parents Greg and Robin and their children Katie, age 18 and Matt, 14, knows first hand about SKIFORALL's programs. They have been participating in the organization's activities for the past six years.
   Both children were born with Joubert syndrome, a genetic neurological and developmental disorder that causes developmental and cognitive delays, as well as motor problems.
   "Our kids started with the downhill ski program, but they've also done snowshoeing and tubing and participated in the organization's summer day camp activities such as rock climbing and hiking," says Robin. "They really enjoy SKIFORALL because the volunteers are so dedicated and motivated to help the kids succeed at whatever level they're at.
   "They make sure that everyone makes progress and has fun, even though they're working hard. Both Matt and Katie have taken enormous pride in learning to ski. It's been such a self-esteem booster for them."
   Matt began skiing using adaptive equipment that included a walker with skis and reins and now he only uses reins for half a run and no reins for the other half.
   Katie can also go halfway down the run without reins, an accomplishment that gives both kids a sense of how far they have progressed since beginning some years ago.
   "The idea now," comments Robin, "is for them to try and work up to more runs, which is exhausting for them, but so good for them. They have hypotonia, which is low muscle tone, and their muscles are not strong, so they have to work extra hard, but when they are successful, they feel so great!"
   Both Robin and Greg accompany their kids to the slopes. Greg has volunteered with the program as a ski instructor.
   "It's fun to watch the kids and we are very supportive of the program," says Robin. "There are lots of programs available for the disabled, but we have always sought out those that are integrative and inclusive. With SKIFORALL, the kids are on the slopes with all the other people up there, doing what they enjoy and getting some great exercise and fresh air."
   The Niklason family of Woodinville also participates in SKIFORALL and parents Grace and Mark wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment and views expressed by the Totonellys.
   "Our kids, Josh, who's fourteen and Melissa, who's 11, both have spina bifida, a birth defect that affects mobility," explains Grace. "They walk with crutches. Josh is in his seventh year with SKIFORALL and Melissa is in her third year. We heard about the program through word of mouth and decided it was worth a try.
   Both kids have skied and biked with the organization and Josh has also snowboarded, canoed and gone rock climbing."
   Josh uses adaptive equipment to ski that includes special outrigger poles, which have short mini skis on the bottom and leave four tracks, as opposed to two. When he snowboards, however, he doesn't use any adaptive equipment.
   Melissa began with a walker with skis on the bottom, but this year she has gone to a bi-ski, a one-bladed ski with a seat. She has short poles with mini-skis on the bottoms that help with balance and stability.
   "My kids love going skiing and they're disappointed when the season ends," says Grace. "They get physical challenges in a positive environment with lots of encouragement and support. They are learning sports, developing life-long skills and participating with able-bodied people. SKIFORALL is wonderful because the volunteers really make it happen. They're the backbone. They're absolutely committed and do it from their hearts. It's a really special organization."
   For more information about SKIFORALL, its programs and volunteer opportunities, call (425) 462-0978.