Paralympic Appreciation Day in Vail
VAIL – There’s a house in Matterhorn that has more Paralympic history than most countries.”It’s been in the Disabled Ski Team since the early ’80s,” said Sarah Will, one of the most decorated Paralympic and U.S. Disabled Team skiers. “That’s where a lot of the people started. They came here, trained here and decided they loved it, and now they are raising their families here.”Along with Will, Greg Mannino and Rik Heid also stayed there while training and transforming Vail into a place where the best skiers came to excel in their sport. Even today, the tradition continues, as Sandy Dukat lives there. Between the house and the accomplishments of John Davis, Adrian Rivera, Kathy Gentile-Patty, Sarah Billmeier, Ralph Green and Chris Waddell, the Vail Valley is the major hub for Paralympic skiing. Recently, Vail Mayor Rod Slifer gave a nod to the all the hard work those athletes have put in through the years by proclaiming April 12th Paralympic Appreciation Day.Dukat, who was involved with the proclamation of the day, thinks its great that athletes who don’t always get in the spotlight are being recognized.”They should take pride that there are so many Paralympians who choose to live here and stay here,” Dukat said. “It’s showcasing athletes people don’t always focus on. Hopefully the growth of knowledge can continue. There are a lot of people who don’t get what we do.”
Mannino, who moved to Vail in 1989, thought the decision helped him be at the top of his game.”When I was invited to come train at Vail by (then owner of Vail) George Gilette – it was the best things I did for my career, and for numerous teammates. It allowed us to achieve the highest level possible. When you get that kind of community behind you, it’s really cool.”Both Dukat and Will echoed Mannino’s thanks for the generosity of the community that made it easy for them to come and stay.”I came over here and looked at Golden Peak and thought, wow, that’s a great hill to train on, and there was never a fight for hill space,” Will said of Vail Resorts and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.”They are awesome for allowing us to train there,” said Dukat, who enjoyed racing alongside SSCV kids. “Those kids really push me, and I think it’s a complimentary relationship. When they want to start complaining, maybe they’ll look around and think twice.”Progression
April 12 may be the official day of appreciation, but there’s plenty of other times to recognize what they athletes have done and continue to do.Earlier this season, the Disabled Ski Hall of Fame moved from Winter Park to the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in the Vail Transportation Center.”It’s always nice to know that there are a lot of local people who are in the museum,” WIll said. “It’s really proven that the Vail Valley is working to include everyone.”Two weeks ago, SkiTAM, the annual fundraiser for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, brought about 1,000 people into town.”It’s 50 percent of our budget,” WIll said. “It’s great thing for the community and everyone coming up. We’re all trying to get those (athletes attending) to be Paralympians.”The athletes are glad to see that others are given similar opportunities to enjoy the sport they love.”What the community and ski area and ski company has done at the highest level, they’ve offered to everyone,” Mannino said.
With the giant success of the Adaptive Ski Program, ongoing programs for disabled veterans and the monoski camp that Will and Waddell have put on for 15 years, the athletes and community have worked together to further establish the area.The athletes also have given back immensely off the slopes. Green and Dukat, when not training and competing, fly all over the United States to give speeches. And right here in the Vail Valley, Will is working tirelessly as executive director of AXS Vail Valley to promote adaptive recreational services and facilities, and expand public awareness.While a day like April 12 is undoubtedly something that Paralympians appreciate, even the smallest thanks is plenty for athletes who have worked so hard and achieved success at the highest levels.”It happened to me again today,” Mannino said last week while at the National Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic in Snowmass. “One of the young soldiers, a kid named Chad … he said, ‘I heard about you before I came, and it’s so cool to ski with you.’ If you can leave that impression on anyone – it’s cool for any athlete. It’s a good feeling for anyone.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.