For 25 years, Disabled Sports USA has paired up with The Hartford Financial Services Group to host the annual The Hartford Ski Spectacular. The eight-day event, which will be from Sunday through Dec. 9 at Breckenridge Ski Resort and Beaver Run Resort, is geared toward snow sports enthusiasts with physical disabilities.
"It's just an enlightening start to the season," said Bruce Horii, director of sales and marketing at Beaver Run Resort. "This is what we consider truly our kickoff to the season."
The largest of its kind in the nation, this year The Hartford Ski Spectacular is pulling in more than 800 participants. The event features classes for beginners on skiing, snowboarding and other sports. There's even clinics on wheelchair curling and sled hockey. In addition to classes, the event features races, both team and individual, for the more experienced participants. The Hartford Ski Spectacular is one of the nation's premier training camps for emerging adaptive ski and snowboard racers, with some of the nation's top adaptive instructors.
"There's a couple of other pretty big events, but it's certainly one of the most important of the industry, because it brings everybody together," said Gene Gambler, director of the adaptive ski program at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center. "It's a who's who of the industry."
Participants include youth, wounded warriors and others with disabilities, including those training for the Paralympics. Notable attendees this year include Amy Purdy, a double-amputee and world-champion adaptive snowboarder, and recent London paralympians Sam Kavanagh, who received a bronze medal in paracycling, Alana Nichols, who competed in wheelchair basketball and Muffy Davis, the three-time gold medalist in handcycling.
Disabled Sports USA was founded in 1967 as a national charitable organization to aid individuals with disabilities. Beginning as a program to serve Vietnam veterans, the program has become one of the nation's largest multi-sport, multi-disability organizations, annually serving more than 60,000 wounded warriors, youth and adults with disabilities.
This year's event will be attended by veterans of all ages - from those who have served in Iraq to veterans of Vietnam who have been with the event since its inception.
Patty Johnson, of Disabled Sports USA, has attended the event in past years, and describes an atmosphere of friendships old and new, and inspiring moments. One particular memory from her first year attending the event has stayed fresh in her mind, involving a three-limb amputee Marine who learned to ski for the first time.
"That was pretty amazing to see," Johnson said. "Having him come down the mountain and people ask[ing] him what it felt like. When he said he felt free, I couldn't hold back my emotion. It really brought everything together. I hope for everyone to have an experience like that in Breckenridge. That is why organizations support an event like this."