Handicapable On Snow

From creating a step-in that actually works, to that engineering marvel the Slinky¿, science has never been more kind to the human species. Americans are changing the way they think, promoting a contagious “I can” attitude that is quickly becoming an anthem for today’s generation. Snowboarding has become a sport where the particpants are against placing limits on their potential.

“The hardest part is doing it for the first time,” says Michele Schoenstein, who was born in Iceland with a birth defect that caused her left leg to not grow fully. Two and a half decades later and now living in Colorado, Michele can carve with the help of a prosthetic leg.

Michele had to find the right coach, able to adapt to her special needs. She was initially discouraged by the teaching practices of instructors at the resort where she first attempted to learn to snowboard. Michele said, “I was uncomfortable with being forced to use special equipment. I was looking for a program that would assist me without drawing undo attention. I didn’t want to be placed in a special class.” She was hoping to find normalcy in the sport of snowboarding.

Michele’s dream began to get off the ground when she met Don Wilson at Loveland Ski Area. Together they concentrated on getting her balance and weight distribution dialed. It was on Mother’s Day at Loveland this year when Michele felt everything come together: “Don was so proud of me, he began to cry.” She says that her victory was made more sweet by being able to do something everyone has told her she couldn’t do.

As unique as each person’s needs are, so are the necessary training methods. The biggest stumbling block for Jesse Horn was customizing a snowboard he could ride. Jesse was born with no legs, yet at the age of eight was already shredding via a specially adapted custom-prosthetic bucket. Snowboarding has opened up a world of freedom to Jesse. He says, “I like steep stuff, and the ability to go anywhere on the hill.” Living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Jesse probably gets more steep stuff and powder than you and I, and thanks his parents most for helping out. Jesse spent last summer recovering from a shattered elbow he received in a gnarly snowboarding wreck the season before, which sent him under the knife. Now, at fourteen, when Jesse isn’t getting “hit by skiers,” he’s spinning 360s in the halfpipe.

Twenty-three-year-old snowboarder Chris Muñoz says, “I have no feeling or movement in my left leg and very little movement in my right leg.” Born with spina bifida, Chris wears plastic leg braces that go up to his knees to provide balance, “Kinda like highbacks.” Riding in Tahoe since ’89, his motivations are similar to most any rider on the hill¿he enjoys being outdoors, away from the city, and out with friends riding through trees. Chris states, “I’ve never made my disability an issue, so it’s never been one.”

Like anyone who’s ever snowboarded, these riders began with the desire of being able to swiftly slide through snow. “Go for your dreams,” are young Jesse’s words, wise beyond his years. “If you think you can do it, you can.”

Or as Chris says, “Nothing beats a powder day. That’s something everybody should experience. Anybody can learn to snowboard¿my balance is for shit.”

Whether it’s utilizing technology to achieve your goal, or draining your resources, it’s not always easy accomplishing dreams. What we can learn from these adaptive riders is exactly how far determination can carry you. What all these snowboarders’ bodies lack in strength, their strength of heart more than compensates.

Special thanks to the people at the National Sports Center for the Disabled for helping put this article together. For more information, contact them at (970) 726-1540 or dial up nscd.org on the ‘Net.