Conquering the Mountain Part III: The Best Is Yet to Come
by Maureen Suhr
The following is Part III in a series of posts about a trip to Crested Butte, Colorado, where members of the HSS Pediatric Rehab team skied with a group of current and former patients from Hospital for Special Surgery and our Pediatric Rehabilitation Department. The “Big Apple Skiers”, as they call themselves, include four young adults, aged sixteen to twenty-three, and one 9-year-old, all with cerebral palsy. To read the first installment, click here.
The plane ride back from Crested Butte was bittersweet for all of us. We were eager to see our families again and tell them of our adventures, but sad to leave our new friends and the freedom of skiing in the mountains. We felt encouraged, however, because as Daniel put it, “It’s not goodbye because I know we will see them here again next year.”
The week was inspiring and empowering for all of us. As Magda reminded me, this was the first time some of these children and young adults got to feel the rush of air on their faces and the sensation of their bodies moving quickly and continuously in space. And they loved it! Daniel’s instructors said he kept pumping his body up and down to make his skis go even faster. Max was traveling so fast he – as he tells the tale, “got some air” – over a small mogul, earning him the nickname “Air Max.”
Looking back over the week, it was tremendous all we have accomplished. One week before we left New York with a group of quiet, shy, and timid travelers. We arrived back with a confident crew of skiers who haven’t stopped laughing since we left the mountain. Our group, despite fatigue and a little soreness, skied for four full days and were disappointed they could not go back and ski again when our flight was cancelled.
The skiers were thrilled to feel the speed and freedom of skiing. The physical therapists were thrilled to see the skiers engaging in continuous physical activity for a week. The skiers learned to control their weight shifts through their pelvis and legs, to engage their core muscles to remain balanced, and to breathe steadily and in a controlled manner in the face of thin mountain air. It was a physical therapist’s dream come true: four days of continuous physical therapy and our “day off” consisted of sledding and snowball fights. I’m exhausted. They would still be out there if they could.
Our final day on the mountain the staff at Adaptive Sports Center showed a slide show documenting our trip, the accomplishments our skiers made, and the fun times we’d had. They also held an awards presentation. The instructors gave personalized certificates to each participant reflecting each skier’s personality and week’s accomplishments. Paying homage to his love of all things fast, Daniel was given the “Speed Demon and Goal Crusher” award. Rosemary’s need for speed was also reflected in her “Rosie the Rocket” award. To celebrate his aerial acrobatics, Max was, of course, awarded the “Air Max” award. Erin was able to try two types of skiing: both standing and using a sit ski. Erin loved the sit ski because she was able to tackle steeper peaks than when she was standing. Because of this (and her New York accent), she won the “Big Mountain Shredda” and the “Living Life on the Edge” awards. Christina received the “Fashion Princess” award because she always looked so good going down the slopes. Finally, Sara was given the “Born to Be a Skier” award because of the way she embraced the sport, became one with the mountain, and never stopped saying, “I love to ski!”
On our way home our group felt stronger physically and mentally. They’d learned to set, achieve, and surpass their goals. My goal for them is to continue this new found freedom, strength, and independence on the obstacles they encounter and the summits they must ascend in their everyday life.
This week they conquered not only the mountain, but themselves, and I believe the best is yet to come.
Maureen Suhr is a doctor of physical therapy and board certified pediatric specialist, and is the assistant section manager at CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion, Hospital for Special Surgery. She has volunteered with the Foundation for Orthopedics and Complex Spine and traveled to Ghana in November 2008 to assist in the rehabilitation of children and adults following joint replacement and spine surgery.
Magdalena Oledzka is a physical therapist and board certified pediatric specialist, and is the section manager at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Lerner’s Children’s Pavilion, Hospital for Special Surgery. She is NDT trained in the management and treatment of children with cerebral palsy and other neuromotor disorders.
Read more posts from HSS Pediatrics by clicking here.