Adaptive cross country program up and running 

Whistler’s great outdoors just got a lot more accessible last weekend with a coaching clinic held in support of the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program’s new cross country ski program.

For the second year, the WASP held a two-day coaching clinic for volunteers from the Sea to Sky Corridor. Some 15 coaches attended the clinic, which was led by Paralympic gold medalist Brian McKeever and national team coach Kasper Wirz, learning how to teach and guide skiers with disabilities.

"It was a pleasure to listen to Brian and Kasper train coaches on how to deal with athletes with physical and visual disabilities," said Todd Allison, the general manager of the Telus Whistler Sport Centre and a former freestyle competitor and coach. The Sport Centre helped to fund the coaching weekend.

"Watching Brian, a skier who competes in the blind category, ski alongside Brad Lennea, a national alpine team athlete who was new to cross country and was skiing in a sit ski, was inspiring."

Lennea is a paraplegic athlete who learned how to both cross country ski and coach over the weekend.

The clinics were based out of the Nordic Centre at Nicklaus North using WASP’s two cross country sit skis and other equipment for the visually impaired and people with various disabilities. The sit skis were provided by a foundation created by disabled athlete James Hustvedt, formerly of Whistler and now residing in North Vancouver.

"Now we have the equipment to take anyone, with any type of disability, out there, and we’ve trained more people so they feel more comfortable," said Sian Blyth, the director of WASP.

The highlight of the program was a special reception at the Nicklaus North Clubhouse on Saturday night with speaker Brian McKeever.

McKeever, who is losing his sight as a result of a genetic eye disease, won two gold medals and a silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Paralympics with his brother Ryan acting as his guide. He shared his experiences as a seeing Nordic athlete, the adjustment period he went through when he realized that he had inherited a genetic eye disease from his father, and his adventures as a member of the national disabled ski team.

Blyth said McKeever’s presentation reminded her again why she volunteers for WASP.

"I got involved with the Adaptive Ski Program because I’m passionate about helping disabled people to enjoy the mountains and Whistler. Brian’s own passion and enthusiasm reminds me why I do this, and gives me energy. I feel inspired," she said.

The next step for WASP is to promote their Nordic capabilities in Vancouver and around the province, letting disabled people know that the option is available to them in Whistler.

Blyth believes that the Nordic program will appeal to a large group of disabled people who might be nervous to try alpine skiing.

"Downhill skiing can be a little too much for some people, but the same people would be glad of the chance to go cross country skiing, and get out into our natural environment," said Blyth.

Although the program now has a larger pool of coaches and guides to draw from, Blyth says more volunteers are needed to help out one or two days a month. WASP provides all volunteers with training.

If you wish to volunteer for WASP, you can contact the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program at 604-905-2071 or adaptiveski@intrawest.com.

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