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7 March 2011

Vermont Adaptive provides sports for every body

Note: This article was originally published in the Rutland County Express on 3 February 2011. It is used with permission.

Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports - Sports For Every BodyFor a person with disabilities, the prospect of enjoying outdoor recreation and physical activities like skiing, cycling or hiking might be regarded as an impossible reality. At Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports, impossible is not a reality.

Founded by a small group of skiers at Mt. Ascutney in 1987, the vision is simple: use sports and recreation to foster self-confidence and independence in people with disabilities.

Since then, the organization has steadily grown into a thriving and nimble nonprofit that offers a wide variety of recreational programs to people of all ages across much of Vermont.

“The impact is immeasurable,” said Erin Fernandez, Vermont Adaptive executive director of 10 years, of the organization’s ability to empower participants. “The self-confidence and independence gained in these programs translates to other parts of life. It breaks down boundaries.”

With her staff of six and more than 400 volunteers, Fernandez coordinates around 3,000 adventures each year. These adventures can range from downhill skiing and snowshoeing to indoor rock climbing, horseback riding and sailing on Lake Champlain.

While dozens of sports and recreational activities are now offered, skiing still remains at the heart of the organization. More than 300 of Vermont Adaptive’s 400-plus volunteer corps are ski and snowboard instructors in the organization’s programs at Pico, Sugar-bush and Bolton Valley.

Fernandez characterizes all her volunteers as “passionate” individuals coming from all walks of life.

“They’re the backbone of our organization,” she said. “We can’t do it without them.”

Vermont Adaptive Ski And-Sport - Jim Sabataso - Rutland Express VT

Photo provided

Indeed, the commitment of Vermont Adaptive’s adult and junior volunteers is undeniable. Training is intensive and, because of the organization’s desire to be as inclusive as possible, covers a wide range of disciplines, instructing volunteers on how to attend to the needs of individuals with both physical and cognitive disabilities.

Volunteers work with clients (both individuals and groups) to help them get comfortable on the equipment and to teach them the fundamentals of the sport. This can often be a frightening step; though, Fernandez noted that when working with children, it is often the parents looking on who are more nervous.

“The volunteers are good at putting everyone at ease,” she said.

Overall, the experience is positive for everyone. It is transformative for the participant – the sense of breaking a boundary, accomplishing something that he or she had never thought possible. For parents and families, it’s a chance to see their loved one defining him or herself by what they can do rather than by what they can’t.

There is also a built-in sense of community. At times, people with disabilities may feel isolated in their everyday lives; they may not know anyone else like them. These programs allow for not only the individual but also the family to socialize and share experiences with those in similar situations.

Some current VASS essentials

—Ski Challenge :: Sat 12 March 2011 at Pico :: Details

—KYR’s fundraising page for VASS on :: Donate

—Website ::

—VASS Facebook Page :: Like It

Part of volunteer training also includes getting acquainted with the equipment. Much of the equipment Vermont Adaptive uses is modified to fit the needs of persons with disabilities. Handcycles, tandem bikes, sit-skis and even deep-keeled sailboats that don’t easily tip are essential to their programs.

Not surprisingly, specialized equipment comes at a higher price. A typical sit ski costs about $3,000.

“The price of equipment can prohibit people from buying it on their own,” Fernandez said.

Vermont Adaptive does its best not to pass these costs on to their clients (some programs are even free). While the organization receives no state funding, programs are underwritten through sponsorships, donations, fundraising and great support from local businesses.

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