Tim Smith had been skiing at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire, for more than ten years when he and his family invited his neigh- bors to join them one weekend. Smith had heard about a program at Loon where skiers with physical or developmen- tal disabilities were able to ski with assistance from trained volunteers.
“I suggested they get their son, who has autism, involved and it opened up an entirely new world for him,” Smith said. “He was now able to ski and be an active part of society.”
Three years ago, Smith decided to become a volun- teer with the program, which is run by New England Disabled Sports (NEDS), a na- tionally recognized program which provides year-round adaptive sport instruction to adults and children with phys- ical and cognitive disabilities.
In order to become a volunteer, Smith went through five days of on-mountain training in November, before the skiing season started, and committed to 20 days of volunteering. The training process includes training with equipment, learning about different disabilities and how to deal with various situations.
Alpine skiing volunteers train with varied equipment, including sit-skis for people with limited use of the lower extremities; a bi-ski, which can be skied with hand-held out riggers or by being tethered to an instructor and is most often used by people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, severe epilepsy and many other upper and lower limb impairments; and three-track skis, which allows skiers to maintain balance with two outriggers.
Each weekend throughout the season, volunteers are assigned their students for the day and work with them to help them enjoy the experience as much as possible. In 2011, Smith was assigned a quadriplegic student for the day. All volunteers are required to wear nametags with their town on them and the student’s mother noticed Smith was from Duxbury.
“I said to him ‘You’re from Duxbury?’ and told him we were as well,” said Elizabeth Nightingale, the mother of Smith’s student, Eric.
Eric Nightingale is 13 years old and goes to school in Duxbury. In 2006, Elizabeth Nightingale heard of the program at Loon from a friend who works at the mountain and decided to try it out. The family has been working with the program on and off since then, as time and health will allow.
On March 9, Smith and Eric participated in the NEDS Winter Challenge ski race against 200 other people and came in first place.
“For me, it was more the excitement to share in the experience with Eric’s family, not so much the accolades amongst the other coaches, that meant the most to me,” Smith said. “He had a huge smile on his face and I knew we’d made a connection.”
So far, Smith has worked with blind students and those with developmental disabilities and said he looks forward to the success of his students.
“It’s amazing for me to see parents watch their child do something they never thought they’d be able to do,” he said. “Just to see the joy on their faces – nothing can match that kind of giving back to the community.
Looking forward, Smith said he would like to become certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America. Smith says he and his family ski every weekend from Christmas through the end of March. In the summer, he volunteers at Loon with the summer biking programs.
“There’s no way I would ever give this up,” Smith said. “Its 100 percent volunteers who do truly amazing things. Its given me a different perspective and helped me realize how blessed I am to be able to help people less fortunate than me.”