Even though the Ski Club the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (FSDB) has made its annual trip to Colorado for almost 30 years, the story never really gets old. “When we started the Club back in the early ‘80’s we never thought we would still be going today!” laughed Linda Meehan, the only remaining original FSDB staff member sponsoring the trip. “Originally, the trip was planned as a one-time Senior class trip, and that initial trip was such a successful experience for our students – we quickly realized it was something we wanted to provide for our students on an annual basis, so we began the Ski Club,” explained Meehan. Blind Department high school students must earn the trip each year through a competitive system where they are awarded points for their GPA, their school conduct, physical workouts, and participation in extra-curricular activities on campus.
Eligible FSDB blind and visually impaired students and accompanying sponsors join other visually impaired students from all over the United States at the Extreme Mobility Camp, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded by Bryan and Mindy Schwarz from Simi Valley, California. Students spent an amazing week at the YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado, taking part in activities ranging from cross country and downhill skiing, snow tubing, snowmobiling to indoor water park fun and rock wall climbing. “We were up in the morning for staff meetings at 6:15 am, and didn’t get to hit our beds until after 10:00 pm at night – the students keep us busy with all the activities,” reported Alex Ritter, Blind Department teacher and new FSDB co-sponsor of the popular Club.
Funding for the Club and its annual trip is provided solely by donations from various ski clubs in Florida and from the Florida Ski Council, who solicits donations of money and clothing each year so that the FSDB students can have this wonderful yearly opportunity. Without the support of ski clubs from around the state, these trips would be too costly for FSDB student groups, and fabulous, confidence-building experiences would be lost.
This year, a snowstorm in Denver almost cancelled the trip for the excited group of 10 students who had earned the privilege for this opportunity. Arriving Sunday with their parents at Orlando International Airport at 10:00 am for a 12:50 pm direct flight to Denver, students were prepared with snacks and iPods for the four-hour flight. Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate, and the snow continued to come down in Denver – FSDB students were delayed several times, waiting seemingly endlessly in Orlando. Finally at 6:00 pm after a six-hour delay, the Frontier Airlines jet left the Orlando runway with relieved staff and jubilant students on board!
After a snowy landing at Denver International Airport, students were met by the Extreme Mobility staff, who had been juggling delayed and cancelled flights all day in an effort to get their athletes to the ranch. They piled into a van to make the three-hour drive through the mountains to Winter Park, finally arriving amidst blowing snow and temperatures barely in the teens. Finding their assigned rooms, the exhausted group fell asleep after almost a 20-hour travel day.
The first day of Extreme Mobility Camp, dawned bright and sunny after the big storm and the student athletes began the day with activities at a recreation facility where they swam in an indoor water park surrounded by snow drifts, played games in the gym and mingled with other athletes in attendance. After lunch, students were driven to the top of a huge, groomed snow-covered hill where they flew down on inner tubes and squealed with laughter for the fast one-minute ride, only to ride to the top on a snowmobile and do it all over again, and again, and again!
On Day Two, the athletes divided into two activity groups – one for downhill skiing, and the other for cross country skiing, skating, and rock wall climbing. For downhill skiing the students took a short van ride into the Winter Park Resort, where they were paired with an instructor from the National Sports Center for the Disabled who are specially trained to work with visually impaired skiers and snowboarders. Jake Tessar, Issac Thomas and Ross Minor were the Florida boys representing FSDB on the first day of downhill skiing, and all three had a blast! Senior Melody Kadzis, chose cross-country skiing with Ms. Ritter, while the rest of the group chose indoor activities at the gym with Ms. Meehan.
On Day Three, the groups switched and the downhill skiers and snowboarders Wes Homewood, Alex Chernov, Cortlinn Pay, Josh Woods, Aaliyah Gisondi and Quinn Delong went into action! Quinn, who had background experience in downhill was all over the mountain with his instructor; Josh, also, with some past experience at Winter Park skied well; Wes and Alex, first-timers, chose snowboarding over skiing, and loved it; while Cortlinn and Aaliyah stuck to downhill skiing on their first day.
Also for fun at camp, students put on a talent show, participated in evening games and skits, and enjoyed the full service cafeteria with its limitless delicious full-course meals and beverage bar. FSDB students surely appreciated the three days of hard snow we experienced during the week, and spent many hours in snowball fights and snow play of tumbling and wrestling in the soft, deep powder. On the final full day of camp, the whole group of 60 athletes and trainers were treated to horse-drawn sleigh rides into the surrounding woods where more snowball fights and drinking hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows over an open fire were the order of the fun-filled day.
Throughout the weeklong trip, new friends were made, old friendships renewed (click here for Melody’s story) and winter experiences shared during an once-in-a-lifetime trip into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Truly it was almost indescribable in its beauty and novelty. Perhaps freshman skier Ross Minor summed it up best when asked if he enjoyed the trip, “Oh, yes!’ he replied enthusiastically, “It was life-changing!” And that’s why it never gets old for any of us.
–Submitted by Linda Meehan, Blind Department Educational Diagnostician