Wheelchairs 4 Kids provides joy, inclusion and community with ski trip to Breckenridge Ski Resort
Sometimes there is nothing more special or magical than seeing a kid’s eyes light up with excitement. Whether it’s experiencing the excitement of experiencing something new, exploring a new area or learning a new skill, kids seem to capture a pure form of joy.
Over the last few days, 19 wheelchair-using kids with the Florida–based nonprofit Wheelchairs 4 Kids experienced the joy of skiing down the snowy slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort. Beyond the immediate joy of feeling the cool rush of air on their faces while hurtling down the slopes, many kids were elated at the chance to travel from Florida for the first time in their lives.
“A lot of them had never traveled,” Wheelchairs 4 Kids program director Carolyn “Nina” Shaw said. “Most of them have never seen snow and all of them are freezing. We have one family that has never traveled anywhere. It is really amazing to be able to go with them on this journey and to have their first childhood experience to be so easy for them.”
Wheelchairs 4 Kids not only provides transportation to Colorado, but also partners with Beaver Run Resort and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center to also provide kids and their families with a room and all the gear they may need for the trip to Summit County.
“We take care of everything,” Shaw said. “All they have to do is give us the documents and follow along.”
Once the families took Saturday, April 1, and Sunday, April 2, to get acclimated to the high elevation, the real fun began. With the help of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, all 19 kids were guided onto a ski lift and taken down their first ski run on Monday, April 3.
Kids beamed and laughed as they swooped up and down the slopes on Peak 9.
“It was amazing,” Shaw said of the team’s first ski day on Monday. “Seeing parents cry and seeing the look on the kids’ faces as they are getting ready and as they are coming down the mountain was awesome.”
Outside of experiencing the sport of skiing for the first time, Shaw said many of the kids were excited to be included in a world that often overlooks or leaves them out due to their disabilities.
“What happens a lot to our kids in wheelchairs is they don’t usually get invited to birthday parties or get to hangout at the mall,” Shaw said. “There’s what we call that ‘wheelchair barrier.’ A lot of people cannot get past it. Showing them that they can do absolutely everything is life changing.”
Madeline Robinson, the Wheelchair 4 Kids executive director, agrees.
“It is everything, it is all about inclusion,” Robinson said. “Our kids are often left on the sideline. They don’t go places, their peers don’t invite them to go out with them.”
Participant Myrica Hercule said she was blown away by the fact that skis are made for disabled kids and adults like her.
“She turned to me and said, ‘Isn’t it awesome? They have skis for people like us,’ ” Shaw said. “It was amazing.”
The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s bi-skis not only allowed Hercule and her friends to experience the snow, but it also allowed her to bond with the center’s instructors, who helped her guide her through trees and across the mountain.
“I have been having a lot of fun,” Hercule said. “The way that (the instructors at Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center) can adjust to our bodies and make it what is best for us. The experience of going down the slopes is really just fun. There are just a bunch of great people and that is just what makes it a whole lot better.”
While feeling included, the kids on the trip are also intended to gain confidence in their own abilities while being in a wheelchair.
“The confidence they build by doing things they never thought was possible is amazing,” Robinson said.
Youth sled hockey player Hunter Jackson received a huge boost in confidence as he was able to figure out how to maneuver his way down the slopes in his bi-ski without any support from a staff member.
“It was pretty cool,” Jackson said. “It was really hard to do. Especially balancing and pushing. It is fun here.”
Ultimately the trip allows for kids and families to bond together and form a community.
“This is like a little community,” Robinson said. “It is really cool to watch the bonding not just between the kids, but the parents. They share resources and they know that they are not alone. They are all going through the same thing. We have built a little community where we can help each other and that means everything.”
As the kids prepared to hit the slopes one more time before traveling back to Florida on Tuesday morning, snowflakes started to pour down. The snow caused a ripple of excitement through the group and invigorated them for another day of carefree adventure on the slopes.
“It is exciting,” Hercule said. “This is my first time seeing snow. It is pretty exciting and it is not as cold as I thought it was going to be, probably because I am excited about it. Once you are excited about something you aren’t really thinking about what is happening.”
This year’s Wheelchairs 4 Kids trip was made possible by The Lightning Foundation, Zervos & Calta, PLLC, donations from Tampa Bay supporters, Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center, Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and many more organizations or donors.
To donate to the cause of Wheelchairs 4 Kids, visit the nonprofit’s PayPal page.
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