‘I wanted to ski one more time’: Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom grants wish to 88-year-old
Huddled inside the Keystone Adaptive Center, Dave McKenna doesn’t look like he just came from the most inspiring ski experience of his life at Keystone Resort’s Dercum Mountain.
Decked out in dark jeans, cowboy boots and a black Australian Outback hat, the gray, grizzly-bearded McKenna was stepping foot on a ski slope for the first time since the “Blizzard of ’78,” which had soured the 67-year-old on snow more than 40 years ago.
The Nor’easter prevented him and his mother, Eleanor “Ellie” Ross, from accessing the cemeteries they were tasked with maintaining 20 miles north of Boston.
“We couldn’t even find the cemeteries,” the Danvers, Massachusetts, resident said. “Never mind clear them out and dig the graves. The rabbis were calling and screaming.
“So she kept skiing,” he said of his mother, “and I quit.”
The record-breaking 27 inches the Boston area received in that storm drove McKenna to pursue passions of history and archaeology. But mom stayed in the mountains. Ross would ski for another 30-plus years, traveling the country and world, skiing such exotic locations as St. Anton in Austria and Zermatt in Switzerland, where Ross skied across international lines.
“To Italy for a spaghetti dinner, and then we skied back again,” Ross said with a smile.
But six years ago, at the age of 82, Ross was told she’d never ski again due to chronic back issues that left her barely able to walk, McKenna said.
That was until November, when the 88-year-old Ross, McKenna and the Brookdale Senior Living Facility heard back from Wish of a Lifetime. It’s a Denver-based nonprofit founded a decade ago by former Olympic skier, NFL football player and Coloradan Jeremy Bloom that has granted more than 1,700 wishes to those 65 or older.
This afternoon at Keystone, however, was Wish of a Lifetime’s very first ski wish.
“Because of the invigoration I felt when I skied down the mountain,” Ross said of the reasoning behind her request. “You know, when you get out to the top of the mountain and look out across everything? It is so beautiful to look out there. And then skiing down, the exhilaration of breathing in the cold, crisp air.”
Because of Ross’ undying love for skiing, she was picked to fly from Boston to Denver for the once-in-a-lifetime experience on Bloom’s home mountain.
While Ross was wheeled around Keystone Resort, her quick-witted personality shone through her distinct Boston accent. In getting to know Ross, Bloom described her fearless attitude with one simple phrase.
“She’s biased towards yes,” he said.
“I want people to look at Ellie and know that they can do whatever they set their mind to into their 80s, 90s, 100s,” Bloom added. “And that they don’t have to stop dreaming, wishing and pursuing life. As we get older, fear has more of an impact on our lives. It’s important to remind ourselves that we can’t let fear get in the way of living the life that was meant for us.”
In order for Ross to have this experience, the Keystone Adaptive Center essentially diagnosed what it would take for her to get down the mountain and built a bi-ski device designed specifically for her condition. For Ross, the experience was much like driving a car.
Haley Keller, the adaptive center’s program manager, said the Keystone crew used Wednesday as a kind of a trial run to see what worked and what didn’t for Ross. For one, the chipper 88-year-old required an oxygen tank to be affixed to her Mountain Man Bozeman Montana bi-ski set-up. It was the first time the center rigged oxygen to a bi-ski, Keller said.
“But that’s kind of what we are all about,” Keller added, “just making it work.”
The final touches for Ross’ Thursday top-to-bottom ski with Bloom on the Schoolmarm trail included the adaptive center adding padding and affixing a sleeping bag to Ross’ bucket atop her bi-ski. And once everything was good to go, Ross said she and Bloom both had advice to share with each other.
“He said, ‘Always enjoy what you can,’” Ross recalled of Bloom. “And I said, ‘That’s what I do, I always enjoy everything I can.’
“That’s why I’m here today,” Ross added. “Because I wanted to ski one more time. My advice to everyone is, ‘Whatever you want to do, do it. Or you’ll regret the rest of your life that you didn’t.”
And what if Ellie had one more wish?
“It’s been too windy every time,” McKenna said, “but I think we will get her up in that hot air balloon one of these days.”
“That would be,” Ross added with a smile, “my last wish, I think.”
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