BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT — How does a person even fathom launching oneself down the side of a snowy mountain on one or two waxed planks? To non-skiers, it might seem like adrenaline-fueled insanity, perhaps one of the many reasons the skiing and riding population enjoy it. Now try doing it while visually impaired or blind. To many, it seems impossible, not to mention impractical. The United States Association of Blind Athletes is an organization that seeks to change such perceptions, aiming to empower individuals and change the way we approach blindness.
“The mission of the Association of Blind Athletes is to enhance the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired by providing quality sports experiences and opportunities,” says Mark Lucas, the association’s executive director. Lucas has been with the organization for 27 years and the executive director since 2001. For those who spend even a short amount of time with him, it is clear how much Lucas cares about each participant of the annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest. Lucas says he wants to continue to “inspire the nation” with the abilities of people who are blind and visually impaired.
The fest had 15 participants, some who are seasoned veterans, others who are stepping into skis for the very first time.
So how does a blind skier successfully navigate a crowded ski slope? With a healthy dose of listening, patience, trust and a dash of courage. Lillian Goldman, a native of Portland, Oregon, relied on a wireless headset to communicate with her guide, Nicole Chandler. Nicole serves as Lillian’s eyes and ears on the slopes, telling her which direction to turn, when to slow down and what obstacles are in her path. It is a true team effort in which they work through challenges together and celebrate each other’s abilities and successes.
Courtney Mazzola, a surfer and skier from California, is a 9 year veteran of the program.
“When I return, I never know what it’s going to feel like. Last year I was doing black [diamond] and there was, just, this sense of terror,” she recalls, laughing at mid-mountain, “and I thought ‘am I actually going to make it?’ and then I did.”
When asked by Lucas about her guide, Katherine Foley, and what she credits to her success. Mazzola answers enthusiastically.
“I have an amazing guide, an incredible match this year,” Mazzola says, “I asked for someone who is sensitive to subtlety, but not micro-managing…for me, it really helps to build the whole trust (bond) which is so essential.”
More information about the United States Association of Blind Athletes, can be found at usaba.org and on the organization’s Facebook page.