Small Champions – large achievements
Life in the Vail Valley centers on skiing, and now that can be experienced by children who would otherwise be sitting on the sidelines.
Small Champions is a year-round sports program that helps disabled children in the valley participate in sporting events. Founded eight years ago by Ron Byrne and Barbara Duncan, Small Champions has enabled Eagle County children to play numerous sports, an experience they say can help change lives.
“It is our goal to raise funds so that no physically challenged child is turned away from these wonderful experiences,” Duncan said. “This organization feels it is essential for all children to have a chance to pursue and achieve goals early in life, which instills the confidence and determination that ultimately sets a positive direction for their lives,”
Andrea Ohde understands first hand the effect this program can have on a child with a disability. Ohde’s 11-year-old daughter, Jade, has been participating in Small Champions since she was 5.
“Jade couldn’t have been in a regular ski program and Small Champions gives her an opportunity to learn skills, to participate in sports, and build her self esteem. It also provides physical therapy,” says Ohde.
Last year Ohde established an annual golf tournament, the program’s major fund-raiser. This year’s tournament is May 14 at Cotton Ranch in Gypsum.
“I looked at all of the people who had volunteered and helped my child,” she said. “I want to give that back. We’re trying to get the word out to parents with special needs children, that there is an exciting program that can help their child.”
Kara Heide, manager of Vail Resorts corporate contributions and community affairs, founded the Vail Ski and Snowboard School Adaptive Program in 1984, and is now a coordinator for Small Champions, along with Connie Miller.
Miller and Heide help coordinate volunteers so they can reach as many children as possible. “The children can be isolated in school,” says Heide. “In this program they associate with their peer group and it’s great for both the kids and the families to look forward to. Every little step is huge.
“People need to be aware and reminded that the smallest extension of inclusion and kindness can have a lifelong effect on these children,” she says.