Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Making Ski Tracks to Empowerment
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Lacey Heward has an amazing ability to get a group of youngsters to listen to her, said Lilly Davies, adaptive snowsports manager for Higher Ground Sun Valley.
 
Monday, January 11, 2016
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

It was a poster someone gave her of Paralympian Sarah Will that got Lacey Heward to wondering:

Could she ski on the world stage? If so, what steps did she need to take to get there?

“My instructors had been asking me, ‘Have you heard of Muffy Davis? Have you heard of Sarah Will?’ Heward recalled. “I was shocked. Here were athletes like me—in monoskis. And here they were on the U.S. Ski Team. I decided: I want to do that, too!”

 
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Lilly Davis, helping Makiah Danzer, says it’s “super exciting” to watch youngsters’ confidence increase during the camp.
 

Heward made good on her promise to herself, following the two monoskiers’ ski tracks all the way to the 2002 Winter Paralympics in Salt Lake City.

There, she won two bronze medals. The next year she was crowned World Cup Overall Champion. She competed at the 2006 Winter Paralympics in Torino, although kidney disease kept her from performing  her best. But she battled back, earning a silver medal in monoski-cross at the X-Games.

Now, the 36-year-old Fairfield resident wants to offer other young athletes with disabilities the chance to dream big like she did. And she wants to outline for them how to get to the Paralympics, if that’s where their dreams lead them.

To that end, Heward conducted a Paralympic Youth Ski Camp Thursday through Sunday at Bald and Dollar Mountains in conjunction with Higher Ground Sun Valley.

 
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Lacey Heward proposes drills that will get 9-year-old Li Dunbar to use his weak side. The Jackson, Wyo., deals with weakness due to dislocated hips and club feet that likely would have been corrected soon after birth had he been born here instead of China.
 

“I’m passionate about empowering young people with disabilities,” Heward said. “I want them to have  confidence when they go into the world. And ski racing is a way for adaptive skiers to safely progress quickly, learning good solid techniques in a safe way.

The camp brought six youngsters between the ages of nine and 18 to Sun Valley. Among them, Jesse Keefe, an amputee from the ankle down who skis with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. Others hailed from places like Nampa, Jackson, Wyo., Mammoth Lake and even Wisconsin.

“A lot of youth with physical disabilities would like to go to the Paralympics, but there’s a disconnect—they don’t know how to get there, what the next steps are,” said Cara Barrett, director of Higher Ground’s recreations programs. “This camp makes sure they’re getting the coaching they need. And it gives them information they need to know to pursue a path to the Paralympics.”

The youth presented a wide range of disabilities—and ski adaptations.

 
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Higher Ground instructor Kelly Boudwin assists Makiah Danzer off the chairlift on her first run of the year.
 

There were two monoskiers, one snowboarder and the below-ankle amputee. Two four-trackers rounded out the group, using regular skis with two outriggers. The outriggers resemble arm braces with tiny skis on the end in the place of ski poles.

Heward moved between the six skiers and boarders effortlessly on her monoski, giving each skier pointers on improving their balance and flexibility and suggesting drills to improve their confidence and skills.

“The way to get balance is to start from an unbalanced position,” she told a 17-year-old Nampa girl with cerebral palsy.

“Open your heart to the downhill,” she added, as she tried to get the girl to focus on something downhill as she skied. “And, every time you take a turn, I want you to take a deep breath—this is your first day on the mountain so you mustn’t tense up.”

 
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“He says he doesn’t want to be a racer, but I don’t know…” says Lilly Davis, after watching Li Dunbar, right, schuss effortlessly through some gates.
 

Key to skiing is balance—and that includes mental balance and being able to balance your fears, she told her young charges. Flexibility is important, too, she added. And that includes the flexibility to make split-second decisions

“Do you have a strong heart? Do you have the will to keep going, pushing yourself?”

Heward was 1 when a hundred-pound weight from her father’s weight bench crushed her spine, leaving her unable to walk. The trauma also caused bladder growth deficiencies that led to kidney problems.

Two Wood River Valley residents--Jim Super and Michael Hobbs—taught her to ski at Boise’s Bogus Basin ski area when she was 14.

Heward was a fast—and fearless—learner. She took part in her first race at the First Security Games at Brundage Ski Resort near McCall. And less than two years later, she was on the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team, traveling all over the world and seeing her picture in “Outside” and “Ski Racing” magazines.

“My whole family skis and I’d always wanted to be on the mountain with them,” said Heward, who now works as office manager and communications director for Swiftsure Ranch, a therapeutic riding facility south of Bellevue.

 “Getting out there, skiing with my family and peers was so liberating. I’d tried playing basketball but I always got pummeled because everyone crashed over me. And in my wheelchair I was always having to look for curb cuts, ramps. Skiing, by contrast, felt so equalizing. I felt so free.”

Ski racing at such a high level also proved a paradigm shift for Heward.

“The support I received from people to get me there was amazing,” she said. “And being at the top of a mountain putting myself out there—I was no longer just as a girl in a wheelchair but a diehard competitor, a go-for-it girl.”

Heward would love it if all the youngsters in her Ski Camp would go on to compete in the Paralympics. But, even if they don’t, she hopes the things they learn in the camp will stick with them through their lives

“I hope the opportunity to do this gives them something to focus on to keep their minds off their disabilities,” she said. “I hope it empowers them, gives them confidence that they can call on when go out in the real world.”

Makiah Danzer, the 17-year-old with cerebral palsy, said the first camp Heward taught did just that for her.

 “It taught me to take risks—like when you go down steeper and steeper hills,” she said. “It gave me confidence that I could get over my mental blocks.”

 

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