Paralympic ski team raises record funds in Vail
VAIL — The telecommunication industry calls it their coolest networking event.
Every year, executives from Direct TV, Cox Communications, Disney/ESPN and many more media networks get together in Vail to share best industry practices and form relationships that enhance the outcome of their business dealings.
And while they’re at it, they happen to raise a million or so dollars for the U.S. Paralympic National Ski Team.
“It’s our biggest fundraiser, without the support of this event we would not be able to compete at the level we do” said Danelle Umstead, a multi-medal winner in both the Paralympics and the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships.
‘BEST WEEKEND OF THE YEAR’
The level Umstead competes at isn’t exactly low maintenance. She’s a downhiller, favoring the speed disciplines. She was clocked at 70 mph on the downhill course at the Sochi Games.
And she’s blind.
“We have two people flying down the course,” she said of the visually impaired class of ski racing. “We need two helmets, two speed suits, four pairs of downhill skis, we each fly, we both eat. It’s not cheap.”
But it’s fun, says Umstead, and that’s for certain. Events such as Saturday’s downhill race, where U.S. Paralympians were paired with telecommunications industry executives in a pro-slalom format, give competitors like Umstead a more laid back annual event to look forward to every year.
“They say they’re coming out for fun, but they really pushing it,” three-time Paralympian and Vail resident Ralph Green said with a smile from the bottom of the Golden Peak course on Saturday. “This is probably one of the best weekends of the year.”
$1.6M IN 2015
Now in it’s 20th year, the Adaptive Spirit annual event has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
And like the fundraiser’s evolution it’s founder, Steve Raymond, wasn’t always the vice president of affiliate relations for DirectTV. He was once a ski bum.
“I lived in Vail for five years in the mid ’80s,” Raymond said Saturday. “I was just a young guy trying to be a ski bum and make my way, earn a living and still ski a bunch, when one of my good friends, Bob Meserve, was paralyzed in a ski accident.
“We were both 23 at the time,” Raymond continued. “I watched him go from thinking ‘What am I going to do now?’ to getting back on a mono-ski, which, once he got on it, he became great and made the U.S. Disabled Team. I watched what an impact it had on Bob, to be able to ski and compete and stay active in the sport.”
Flash forward to 1995 — Meserve is retired from racing and Raymond, working in telecommunications, learns of a dire financial situation the U.S. Disabled Team was facing.
“A major sponsor had left and they were going to fold,” Raymond said. “A group of us in the industry were looking to create a signature event for our Rocky Mountain cable chapter, and we wanted it to be a ski event. We were looking for a good cause to support and raise some industry issues and bring people from around the country to Colorado. Our group decided to adopt them and raise money for the team. We had about 200 people show up, and we raised $100,000. We saved the team that year. We realized we were onto something.”
Twenty years later, in 2015, they raised a record $1.6 million, up from the $1.1 million the raised last year.
“This is our biggest year yet,” said organizer Joe Rooney with Cox Communication.
Rooney said the event’s 50 sponsor packages sold out in record time in 2015, organizers reached out to individual sponsors this year in addition to groups and were able to bring between 1,150 and 1,200 people to Vail.
“It’s great to see how big the event has grown, and how many people come out and support our team and are rooting for us to ski well,” said Laurie Stephens, a sit-skier who won bronze in the downhill and super-G at this year’s Paralympics. “I’ve been coming out for at least 10 years, and I look forward to it every year.”