Skiing on adrenaline

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

Last week in Snowmass Village, Colo., Juneau's Susan Macaulay, an Air Force Veteran, pushed her own comfort zone at the 24th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

Macaulay, 44, was among more than 350 U.S. military veterans and active duty personnel from across the country who participated in the event to improve their winter sports skills.

After completing her eighth year at the clinic, held March 28-April 2, Macaulay, a former avionics navigation systems specialist, said the experience was wonderful, as usual.

"It's remarkable to come and see veterans from all 50 states with all kinds of different disabilities," she said. "When I came for the first time in 2002, it was remarkable to learn and see what people can do. And it gave me self esteem and incentive to get off my (butt) and start trying things in different ways."

While stationed in Germany 22 years ago, Macaulay suffered a brain injury in an off-duty car accident on the German autobahn. She has lived in Juneau for 18 years now.

The clinic promotes rehabilitation by teaching downhill and cross-country skiing to veterans with significant physical disabilities and visual impairments.

For both Alpine and Nordic skiing, participants have the benefit, based on their level of ability and ski experience, to use a wide variety of specially-adapted ski devices or methods taught by certified ski instructors. It also offers participants an opportunity to learn scuba diving, rock climbing, sled hockey, curling, snowmobiling, self-defense and other activities that they can continue when they return home.

During the Winter Sports Clinic, Macaulay participated in skiing as well as snowmobiling. Macaulay said she uses a bi-ski, which is a sit ski with a moulded bucket seat and two skis that can be skied independently, like the mono-ski, with hand-held outriggers.

It also can be skied with the assistance of an instructor using stabilizing outriggers and tethers, as it is in Macaulay's case.

Macaulay said she controls the turns while the ski instructor behind her controls her speed with the tethers. She said the experience gives her a boost of adrenaline.

"It's a rush. It's awesome to find what you can do when you find these wonderful things," she said. "It really is amazing, and the skiing was my favorite part.

"I didn't just go up the bunny slope - we skied some really great places."

While she loved her experience on the bi-ski, Macaulay said she couldn't help but be amazed by other veterans at the clinic. She said watching them was a real inspiration for her.

"You think, 'Oh my gosh, they have it much worse off than I do, and look what they're doing,'" she said. "It gives you belief that just because we become disabled, it doesn't make us a nobody.

"We're differently-abled, and we can just do things a little bit different than a lot of people."

Macaulay said she hopes to use the confidence she gained from the Winter Sports Clinic to further her skiing experience in Juneau.

She said she tried to ski once at Eaglecrest but it did not go well, and to this point has only skied while at the Winter Sports Clinic. Macaulay believes since she has gotten better at the sport, she might try Eaglecrest again soon.

"Things have gotten better," she said, "so I could probably go back and try again."

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