Alex Chery, a 12-year-old boy from Newport Beach, California, loves to ski at Brundage Mountain. It’s not that unusual for a kid to enjoy skiing at Brundage, but this boy is special. Alex has cerebral palsy. So how does a kid with a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination even get down a mountain? And do it with a smile on his face?
The answer lies with a group of volunteers who, day in and day out, give up their own personal time to provide ski lessons to those who could use a little assist. Adaptive Wilderness Sports of McCall (AWeSOMe!) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower people of all abilities through high-quality outdoor experiences. In the winter they teach those with disabilities how to ski or snowboard; in the summer, how to kayak. Their goal is to provide participants the opportunity to learn new skills, challenge themselves, and work together to enhance the health and self-confidence necessary to expand human potential.
Founded in 2001, AWeSOMe is a proud chapter of Disabled Sports USA, an organization that serves more than 60,000 disabled athletes annually. This winter alone, the volunteers of AWeSOMe have helped enable 42 disabled skiers, like Alex, to enjoy the thrill of “getting down the mountain.” This ski season they have provided over a thousand hours of instruction and encouragement.
“Our goal is to start students out in the least restrictive environment and help them to become as independent as possible,” says Marnie Sell, one of AWeSOMe’s board members and a volunteer instructor. “Sometimes we teach ourselves out of a job – and that’s OK! Learning new skills, gaining self-confidence, and most important, having fun are our main goals. I’m pretty sure all of our instructors would agree that our success is measured in smiles.”
Sell adds that AWeSOMe receives lots of support from the local community. “We couldn’t have such a successful program if it wasn’t for the support we receive from Brundage and others. Brundage provides the ski rentals, the lift tickets, a place where we can store our special equipment and our A-frame hut. Many organizations, such as McCall Rotary and the Payette Lakes Progressive Club, have provided generous grants and donations to train our volunteers, purchase specialized equipment, and keep our operation running.”
And what about our young skier Alex? How did he make out with the AWeSOME program? His dad, Anthony Chery, talks about Alex and his skiing progress with obvious pride. “Alex doesn’t let tough conditions hold him back,” says Chery. “He is a hard worker but always has a big smile on his face. Last year, in his second season of skiing, he skied down from the Bear Chair. This year he made it down from the top of the mountain. He couldn’t have done it without the wonderful instructors and volunteers of AweSOMe. They totally exceeded everything we could have expected.”
Sell shares one more dimension to this remarkable story. “After last year’s season, we had a staff get-together with the Chery family. Dave Robey, one of our instructors and a retired U.S. Navy Captain, presented Alex with one of the medals he had received during his naval service, saying ‘What Alex did this week was one of the bravest things I have ever seen. He’s the one who deserves this medal.’”
The good folks at AWeSOMe are now transitioning from their winter activities to their summer program. If you know someone who may benefit from their good work, you can visit their website or contact them through email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.[Cover photo of AWeSOMe! ski instructors at Brundage chalet by Marnie Sell.]