Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
Blind skier Devin Fernandez passes through a racing gate with volunteer guide Mike Landon at Pico Mountain on Sunday. The United States Association of Blind Athletes and Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports hosted its largest gathering of blind and visually impaired athletes this weekend.KILLINGTON — Their philosophy is don’t let your limitations limit your life.
“We’re about overcoming limitations,” said Ted Rauhaut of Norwalk, Conn., who was one of about 100 volunteers to descend upon Pico Mountain this past weekend for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports’ sixth annual Winter Ski Festival.
Sunday morning, Rauhaut was on the Bonanza Trail, teaching 16-year-old John Gilroy of West Islip, N.Y., how to ski. Learning to ski is difficult enough, but Gilroy is visually impaired.
“You have to trust them,” Gilroy said of Rauhaut and fellow volunteer guide, John Lajoie, of Charlestown, N.H. Gilroy held a pole in each hand, pointed behind him and held by one volunteer, while the other gave verbal instructions.
“I fell a lot,” Gilroy said, “but it’s because of my balance, not my vision, because I fell down when I let go of the poles.”
Gilroy is one of the roughly 3,000 disabled athletes who every year go out on an excursion with Vermont Adaptive, which offers alpine and Nordic skiing, canoeing, climbing, cycling, sailing and horseback riding trips to individuals who are overcoming an array of disabilities.
“We are their eyes,” said Vermont Adaptive’s Executive Director Erin Fernandez, whose nonprofit group also reaches out to wounded veterans, stroke victims and multiple sclerosis patients, and gives them the opportunity to simply get outside or get competitive, with some participants aspiring to make the U.S. Paralympic ski teams.
Fernandez was quick to thank area businesses, such as Shearer Honda, which loaned a van to Vermont Adaptive to pick up athletes who flew into Burlington, and the Cortina Inn, where the participants stayed.
“We are not an easy group,” Fernandez said. “They went above and beyond to make us feel at home.”
This weekend’s events were good for both a first-timer like Gilroy and more experienced skiers who are returning to the sport after losing their sight.
“This is something I didn’t think I would ever do again,” said Ed Plumacher, 52, of Garden City, N.Y., who was on skis for the first time in 13 years. “I took a really bad fall and I thought that was it for me and skiing.”
Plumacher’s guide was Frank Kelley of Chester, who has been volunteering with Vermont Adaptive for eight years and takes his disabled daughter down the slopes. To hear Kelley tell it, Plumacher picked up the sport right where he left it as he bombed down the mountain Sunday morning.
“We got some incredulous looks because we were going so fast,” said Kelley, who rode behind and gave directions while Plumacher, who lives with a degenerative retinal disease that gives him tunnel vision, focused on another volunteer riding ahead of him.
“You can either feel sorry for yourself or you can go out and live life,” Plumacher said.
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