Annual Hartford Ski Spectacular at Breckenridge broadens horizons for those with disabilities |

Annual Hartford Ski Spectacular at Breckenridge broadens horizons for those with disabilities

Orlando Perez navigates the slopes at his eighth Hartford Ski Spectacular from Dec. 6-12 at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Joe Kusumoto/Courtesy photo

The Hartford Ski Spectacular, one of the nation’s largest winter sports festivals for individuals with physical disabilities, returned to Breckenridge Ski Resort after being held virtually last year.

The event, which is put on by Move United, took place Dec. 6-12 with nearly 650 participants, ranging in ability from first-time skiers to members of the U.S. Paralympic Team.

Among them was Hailey Danz, a six-time Paratriathlon World Championship medalist who won silver in the women’s PT2 event at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio.

Danz traveled to Breckenridge in order to attend her third Hartford Ski Spectacular as an ambassador of the program and a Hartford athlete.

“I really love the Hartford Ski Spectacular because it is an opportunity for so many people with disabilities to get out on snow for the first time,” Danz said.

Danz also said she has seen throughout the past three Hartford Ski Spectaculars that participants realize they are capable of so much more than they originally thought.

Danz, who lost her leg to cancer, had a similar experience to a lot of new participants. She first tested her limits by going down a mountain on skis while at an adaptive camp in Salt Lake City. It was at this ski camp that Danz realized she could still be an athlete despite having an amputated leg.

“People with disabilities come to this event, and they may think that they have these limits that they have come up with in their heads,” Danz said. “They come here and they are able to see what all these other athletes are doing with disabilities that completely run the spectrum, but then they get out there themselves and get down the mountain themselves, and I think this experience is so empowering.”

One of Danz’s favorite parts about the event every year is engaging with the participants as well as gifting participants adaptive equipment.

“Some of the most meaningful interactions for me have come from some of the people who have benefited from the Hartford Ability Equipped Program,” Danz said. “Being able to be a part of some of those surprise donations and seeing the surprise on their faces as they get a piece of adaptive equipment that they need is really special.”

Danz also enjoys getting to know the participants at a deeper level as they attend the event or are honored by receiving adaptive equipment.

Two such people who Danz got to surprise with equipment at this year’s Ski Spectacular were Orlando Perez and Anna Boltz.

Perez, who is a private first class in the U.S. Army, was left paralyzed due to a spinal cord tumor removal. Perez is set to compete as a mono-skier at the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing. Perez will be the first athlete from Puerto Rico to compete at the Winter Paralympic Games.

Orlando Perez and Lori High are pictured as Perez was gifted new adaptive ski equipment at the Hartford Ski Spectacular from Dec. 6-12.
Joe Kusumoto/Courtesy photo

Boltz, who is from Anchorage, Alaska, was born with spina bifida. Despite her disability, she joined Challenge Alaska’s Alpine Race Team at 8 years old.

Boltz, who is now 14, was surprised with her own Tessier Scarver Monoski, which will make it easier for her to travel to competitions and continue to develop as a young Alpine skier.

This year’s Ski Spectacular was Perez’s eighth event and Boltz’s second.

“I think the event is a good way for us to connect with other people with certain disabilities that are close to ours,” Perez said. “And also coming out here and learning in the race camp with some of the best coaches in the country — you don’t get that anywhere else.”

The pair actively compete in giant slalom and slalom competitions across the nation and globe, which is why receiving state-of-the-art equipment was so essential. Receiving this equipment was the main highlight from this year’s event for Perez and Boltz, with both showing emotion while talking about what the moment meant to them.

Boltz said most of her family had been keeping the news of the gifted equipment a secret for the past two months, which she said was one of the hardest things they have ever had to do.

“It was definitely super special, and I was super surprised,” Boltz said.

Anna Boltz is gifted new mono-ski equipment at the Hartford Ski Spectacular from Dec. 6-12 at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Joe Kusumoto/Courtesy photo

Perez said he was taken aback by the surprise donation, as adaptive ski equipment is very expensive.

“It is top-notch equipment, and for us to get this equipment, it means a lot because it is actually my first pair of brand new skis,” Perez said as he choked back tears.

Perez and Boltz have received hand-me-down mono-skis the past few years, so to get new equipment gifted to them goes a long way.

Aside from being gifted the adaptive ski equipment, Perez and Boltz said one of their favorite parts of the event was interacting with fellow participants.

“Getting to interact with people that can relate to you in some way — you don’t get that every day,” Boltz said. “It allows you to make new friends.”

Perez said that over the past eight years of attending the Hartford Ski Spectacular, he has seen many people grow from kids unsure about their disabilities to adults who are confident — with some even striving to make the Paralympic team.

“I love the fact that I get to come and see how these athletes, like Anna here, progress and rise to the biggest stage,” Perez said. “For me, that’s really special.”

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