One of the largest adaptive winter sports clinics, The Hartford Spectacular, has helped those with disabilities change their mindsets and realize they can do more.
The Hartford Ski Spectacular changed the way Matt Melancon thought.
Just six months after his first leg amputation because of an infection, the Army veteran was hurting inside. He was depressed. He was angry. Melancon didn’t believe he was going to be his active self again.
Even when doctors told him about how amputees could snowboard, he questioned it. Melancon didn’t understand how he could be successful, especially if able-bodied people struggled with the sport.
Then, he attended The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colo. Over nearly a week, he learned how skiing and snowboarding could still happen, even if it was rough.
“The whole trip was kind of a controlled disaster. But it just introduced me to this incredible new world. And it really just gave me a fight to have, and I think that’s really important for people like me,” says Melancon, who had his left leg amputated after being hit by a roadside bomb strike in early September 2011 at Paktika Province in Afghanistan. “It sucked, but it was like a great kind of suck. I think the only I way I could describe it is that fight, just laying in a hospital bed, I didn’t feel like I was just holding on. There wasn’t really a fight for me to have. And learning how to snowboard, it was just kind of this wonderful fight that I could actually fight.”
Helping The Injured Fight
There are handfuls of winter disabled sports clinics across the United States, ranging from Colorado to Minnesota to Pennsylvania. The Hartford Ski Spectacular is one of the largest.
Hosted and run by Disabled Sports USA, The Hartford Ski Spectacular started in 1988 and has held different names. The six-day program at the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge runs from late November to early December and teaches participants how to ski, snowboard and more. Lessons are offered in the mornings and afternoons with plenty of time to practice.
More than 800 people attended last year’s event, which includes a Ski Spec Challenge Race, Nordic skiing, biathlon, curling and sled hockey clinics, a casino night and other banquets, as well as an opening banquet for veterans with disabilities.
There’s also a classroom session for those teaching adaptive winter sports to help instructors from all over the country learn the latest techniques.
Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA Kirk Bauer says the goal is to provide a national event that brings people with disabilities together to learn everything about snow sports, both from student and instructor points of view. Bauer acknowledges there’s a lack of trained instructors for those who have disabilities, particularly those with spinal-cord injuries. He wanted to change that and get more out there.
Now, he’s in charge of an academy offered by Professional Ski Instructors of America and the only one in the United States where instructors receive credit.
An Army veteran, the 68-year-old Bauer was hit with a hand grenade during battle in Vietnam in 1969. He lost his left leg above the knee, but it’s adaptive skiing and Disabled Sports USA that changed his life.
Bauer sees participants at the beginning of the Spectacular and then at the end. He loves watching their mental and physical changes from the first day to the last.
“It builds their confidence. It puts them on the path to fitness, and it gets them focusing on something positive like sports instead of, you know, sitting around and thinking about all the things they don’t think they can do anymore,” Bauer says. “And that’s what I was doing. When I was in the hospital at Letterman [in San Francisco], I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but I was sitting there with a checklist — gee, I can’t do that anymore, and I can’t do that anymore. I was big into sports before that, so this was a real tough situation as far as I was concerned. And I thought I was no longer going to be able to do a lot of the sports that I did and a lot of the activities. And of course none of it was true, but I didn’t know that. By getting out and going out on the ski slopes, skiing was my first sport I did out of the hospital, just completely turned my whole outlook on life around.”