US Paralympic Ski Team parties on Vail | SummitDaily.com

US Paralympic Ski Team parties on Vail

John LaConte
Vail Daily

VAIL — It's the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team's biggest fundraiser and also doubles as one of the best networking opportunities that telecommunications industry professionals enjoy each year.

And in 2016, Adaptive Spirit celebrated 21 years in Vail.

It would be hard to top 2015, when the group of telecommunications and cable television professionals, along with the nation's top adaptive snow sport athletes, celebrated two decades together and raised over $1.25 million in a single weekend. But this year, 1,200 people turned out once again for the annual event, which started Friday and ran through Sunday in Vail. The event's educational panel may have been the best in Adaptive Spirit's history, said event founder Steve Raymond.

"Michael Powell, chairman of the national cable and telecommunitcations association and son of Colin Powell, gave a keynote speech, and we had athletes demonstrating products that are accessible to people with disabilities," Raymond said.

THE FREEDOM OF SKIING

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Paralympics alpine team member Andrew Kurka was in town with his family from Alaska. Now enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship with his sponsor, NetCracker Technology, he used the time to explore the mountain with the folks from NetCracker.

"We love exploring and getting a chance to ski together," he said.

He met NetCracker's executives at the Adaptive Spirit event in Vail four years ago. He sees them once or twice a year, and the Vail weekend is one of their major opportunities to connect.

"This is one of the big ones," he said. "That's what this event is great for — it's not just raising funds for the U.S. Paralympic Team, but individuals, as well, we get a chance to get sponsors."

Athletes in attendance included undefeated World Cup cross country winner Oksana Masters, Paralympic Winter Games Bronze medalist Danelle Umstead, Paralympic Winter Games silver medalist snowboarder Mike Shea, and Paralympic Winter Games Silver Medalist Mark Bathum.

For Bathum, 57, the event is another great excuse to do what he loves so much.

"I am having as much fun as I did when I was a teenager," he said. "It surprises me that I still get as much joy out of skiing as I do."

Paralympics has helped with that, he said.

"I got diagnosed with an eye disease in 1986, and one of the things I remember when I was given the diagnosis that I would go blind was 'Well, some day I'll do the Paralympics,'" he said. "Doing this sport is freedom from the limitations of our disabilities … It's a freedom that comes from a natural state. Everybody shares a physical challenge, so that becomes the norm."

EMBODYING THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

Raymond remembers a time when the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team was broke, with nowhere to turn. His friend Bob Meserve, also in attendance over the weekend, was a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team at the time after becoming a sit skier following a freak accident — catching an edge on a green run and going down. Raymond got a call from Meserve.

"The U.S. Disabled Team was going to go out of business, a major sponsor had pulled had left U.S. skiing, and they were going to fold," Raymond recalls. "We created (Adaptive Spirit) … raised $100,000 and saved the team that year."

Now 21 years later, Raymond is humbled and amazed by the partnership between Paralympic snow sport athletes and the telecommunications industry.

"The industry has rallied around these athletes," he said. "I really take a sense of pride that we have been able to make them the best team in the world."

Bathum said the event truly embodies The American Spirit.

"It's an expensive sport, and many of our competitor's teams are government funded," he said. "It's not that way in America, and I don't have a problem with that, because things like this emerge because of that. Here you have a great organization and an awesome event that have come together to make it possible for us to do this. It's just incredible what these guys have done."

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