1996 CHEVY TRUCK DISABLED ALPINE SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
In April 1996, I reached the summit of my alpine ski racing career by winning the bronze medal in the downhill at the 1996 Chevy Truck Disabled Alpine Ski Championships.
LEARNING TO SKI – I learned to snow ski when I was 20-years old. Although legally blind at the time, I had not yet developed the need for — or willingness to try — a mobility device such as a white cane or guide dog. Therefore, when it was time to learn to ski, I buckled up my boots, clicked on my skis, and took lessons with the other members of my family. Most likely, my parents probably let the instructor know that I had tunnel vision. In turn, I am sure I let the instructor know there would be no need for special treatment. During the next five ski seasons, I remember seeing skiers with bright orange bibs with BLIND SKIER in big black letters skiing down the mountain with guides. No way was I going to draw that much attention to my BLINDNESS. Besides, those skiers were too slow.
ACCEPTING THE ORANGE BIB (AND BLINDNESS) – After five years of skiing, numerous near misses, and a few — luckily no serious — collisions, I decided it was time to wear the orange blind skier bib. In fact, skiing with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s (BOEC) blind skier guides in the spring of 1993 was the first time I openly displayed I was blind. I had decided that a mobility device would soon be needed and planned to attend Leader Dog School for the Blind later that year. I figured the world was going to know soon that I had a vision problem; therefore, I concluded wearing the orange bib would help toughen up my skin for what I was sure would be endless hours of blind jokes.
Jill and Bob were the guides assigned to ski with me. They both showed up with their Guide Bibs, a Blind Skier Bib for me, and their old-rock-unwaxed skis ready for a slow day of skiing with this first time blind participant. The three of us experimented with the guide-in-front and guide-in-back techniques on the bunny hill most of the morning. I was learning to follow the guide’s verbal commands consisting of turn-left, turn-right, go-go-go, stop, and of course just in case you needed it to avoid another skier, tree, snow cat, and the command SIT. At lunch, I informed Jill and Bob that I missed the white-knuckle feeling experienced during that first blue run, first black run, or first mogul run when learning to ski.
PEAK 10 (THE CORRIDOR APPROACH) – Peak 10 at Breckenridge consists of mainly blue-black groomed runs perfect for keeping the skis flat and letting them run. After lunch the wind had picked up and most skiers were staying away from Peak 10. Because of the lack of other skiers, Jill and Bob decided to try the corridor approach. They explained that the run would be split up into five sections with section one on the far-left side, section five on the far-right side, and section three in the middle. Jill would ski in section one and Bob would ski in section five. I would start in section three and would have the freedom to decide when to turn, the direction of the turn, and the type of turn to make. Of course, if Jill called out one then I was to make a right turn and if Bob called out five I was to turn left. Once Jill and Bob got in their respective locations and made sure I was squarely centered in section three, it was time to give the corridor approach a try. That first run, I made a few Super-G and downhill style turns being careful not to bleed off any speed. For a brief moment flying off a non-seen drop off, I experienced that white-knuckle feeling I craved. At the bottom, once Bob caught his breath, he wanted to know if that got my juices flowing. “It was all right” I responded, making sure not to admit to the white-knuckle feeling. The rest of the day the threesome ripped down Peak 10 leaving only a blur of orange to be seen by the few other skiers braving the wind. The next day, the threesome traveled to Copper Mountain to tackle another mountain. This time Jill and Bob showed up with their good skis and a new coat of wax. I have never skied without a bib since that day, although sometimes I traded in the ORANGE BLIND SKIER BIB for a RACING one.
Although I loved to snow ski and race, I realized the time and money required to make the United States Disabled Ski Team would be too great for a Nebraska flat-lander. So, later in 1996, I accepted a job transfer and relocated to Fort Worth, Texas to focus on the other sport I loved — running.