Right Turn……….Left Turn

IMG00106-20100110-1030 Let’s return to the “edgy” side shall we? Lets talk about something really out there like……..skiing when you are visually impaired. Right now, get up from your comfortable space and close your eyes. Try to move into the next room with your eyes closed. Do this carefully please. Feels strange right? Now ratchet that up about 100 times and imagine yourself locked into a pair of skis and sliding down a mountain. Scary huh? Well that is what many folks with impaired vision have done over the last 34 years of my involvement in an organization called Western Pa. BOLD(Blind Outdoor Leisure Development.) I first became involved with BOLD 34 years ago when I returned from Maine teaching skiing for the winter. The BOLD people were looking for someone to teach the guides for the blind how to effectively teach someone to ski. In turn they taught me how to interface with folks without sight or limited sight. It has been a great ride ever since and it has been amazing to me how courageous these folks are and how trusting to turn over their physical well being to a guide.
People generally learn to ski the same way in a flat area and then work their way to movement on skis. Visually impaired folks are no different except that you have to be more hands on than simply saying ” watch me”. Once they are up and running, the commmands are usually simple. Right turn, left turn, stay in that line, stop. The guide skis behind the skier and the two of them make their way down the mountain together. A remarkable vision for most sighted people to see on the hill. People are amazed!!
Fred Siget is our oldest skier. Fred and I met 34 years ago and I accompanied him along with Larry Walsh, who is the ski writer for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, to Snowshoe,West Virginia. We worked with Fred who knew how to ski based on a little previous experience. When it came time for me to guide Fred for the first time, we were on Cup Run and there were very little people or obstacles in sight. Everything was fine until I noticed a large oak tree right in the middle of the trail. Damned if it wasn’t like a magnet that sucked Fred closer and closer as I tried to guide him around it. He eventually smacked it dead on and I felt terrible. But to Fred’s credit, he laughed and said,”my boy, that will be the first of many. Relax and you will be fine.” Fred and I have had many runs since then at Vail,Colorado, Seven Springs,and the National Blind Skiing Championships. He is a trooper and is now 90 years young. One of the best memories I have of Fred is when he told me he wanted to drive again. I said ok and we went to the upper lot at the Seven Springs Resort which was snow covered and I turned the wheel of my International Scout over to Fred. We laughed like hyenas as he floored it following my instructions on where to drive. The tears of joy in his eyes were something I will never forget along with the satisfaction that he didn’t flip my Scout when doing donuts in the parking lot that night.
Many other characters have entered and exited the ski program. We had an ex Hell’s Angel from Chicago decked in all of his gear learning to ski. The leathers and the chains and tattoos were not in accordance with standard ski garb but he sure had fun. Good thing!!! We had a nun who insisted on skiing with her habit and a ski jacket. She said to me to be careful because she had a colostomy. I encouraged her not to fall because it might cause interference with my ski wax. If you know what a Poma lift is, (surface lift with a long pole and platter that you put between your thighs to pull you uphill), I had the pleasure of getting behind many overweight blind skiers and going up the lift in tandem with my arms around them hoping that the two of us would not tip over. A lot of these folks relied on me to ski in front of them with their arms around me from behind and the two of us would glide down hill in a double wedge with my thighs screaming at me all night. What a workout. My good buddy John Good is a big fellah who liked to ski with a flask. He also liked to ski with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and he had a penchant for going the opposite direction of what I was asking him to do. Left turn John……no the other left John……..crash into the snow fence. John giggled, took a good belt from the flask and lit up another cig and said,” Lets go !!!!!” What a guy.
We have two ladies who are terrific skiers. Nancy Leverett who can ski basically everything with style and grace. She probably skis better than most sighted skiers. Nancy skis out west regularly and is really a “sight” to see. Maggie Ostrowski was a bronze medalist in the Atlanta Para-Olympics in Goal Ball( a form of soccer), and is equally gifted as a skier. Our guides are marvelous folks who offer their time and compassion. The bright orange bibs that say “Blind Skier” are visible often during the winter and the general public often remarks to me what an inspiration these folks are to the skiing population. I agree but I internalize the inspiration not so much by what they do on the slopes but by their courage to overcome their “disablity” and interact with the general public. When they ski, they are not disabled at all. They are part of the fun, bright, thrill seeking tribe that we call skiers. You can open your eyes now!! Right turn……Left turn…….back to your living room. Thanks for reading. For more informaiton on BOLD, contact http://www.wpabold.org.

8 thoughts on “Right Turn……….Left Turn

  1. Gwynne Morgan says:

    Just read your blog about guiding blind skiers. Great stuff! These are the real heroes not those taking performance enhancing Driscoll and liberties with the truth! Daughter Bailey volunteered w handicapped skiers at Sunday River when she was in high school

  2. Larry Cohen says:

    Pat Mac. I Just came back from an inspiring daysking with scott dismukes and dom and annabana….and of course, Nancy leverett was there–we talked about a lot of people that were there and are still here… I missed Maggie the Cat….who , I`m
    told got MARRIED.
    It seems I learned something from you.
    there was a fair amount of residual there for me plus adaptation to new equip and technique….I tried have my skier
    (visualize thru contact with my hands) all of this without skis.
    feeling a veeee, ggoing thru as much as I could—before putting on skis…it worked pretty well..Dom and Scott really worked to gether. You would have been very proud of the results…… talk to me ,,Larry C

  3. Cuz-I-L says:

    Paddy Mac, Ski tips of everyone reading this one, point straight to the heart. Your 34 years of service, the lives you have touched and those whose life have touched you, inspires each of us to fearlessly try something new, work at it diligently, and most importantly, to share something of ourself and be in greater service to our fellow man. Slainte, Cuz-I-L

  4. Eric Durfee says:

    I always admired you for doing the BOLD program………..all those years. As far as skiing goes, you have always given much more to the sport than you have taken. …………..Applause………….

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