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Adaptive skiers beat the COVID winter blues with the help of a local program at Swain

Jennifer Truscott in her sit-ski, with her brother, Stephen Manning.
Al Sigl Community of Agencies
Jennifer Truscott in her sit-ski, with her brother, Stephen Manning.

Jennifer Truscott grew up skiing with her family.

They raced on double-black diamond slopes — the most challenging and dangerous runs in North America.

"It was a sport that we loved doing," she said.

But Truscott was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001. As the condition worsened, she could no longer ski.

"My legs just couldn't hold up to do that," she said.

But she ultimately found a way back to her favorite sport. Seven years ago, Truscott discovered Shared Ski Adventures, an adaptive ski program in partnership with Al Sigl Community of Agencies, CP Rochester and Rochester Rehabilitation.

The program pairs skiers of all abilities who are 5 and older with the adaptive equipment and support they need to move through the snow.

Truscott uses a sit-ski. She said it looks like a chair mounted to a pair of skis.

"But it actually has a lot of different technology in it," she explained. "There's a piston; there are shocks, and so you're able to mimic how you would turn your ski within your ski boot and now you're using your body to turn the sit-ski."

Other skiers in the program might use ski-sliders — a kind of walker equipped with skis — or long poles with the skier in the middle and a volunteer on either side.

A volunteer at Swain Resort stands behind Jennifer Truscott who is seated on a sit-ski.
Al Sigl Community of Agencies
A volunteer at Swain Resort stands behind Jennifer Truscott, who is seated on a sit-ski.

When working with skiers who are blind, instructors wear special throat microphones connected to the skier's headphones. That way, their directions can be clearly heard.

"They cancel out any of the background noise, so if there's wind or the snow-guns are going, it kind of blocks out that noise," said program coordinator Julie Dana.

Dana said Shared Ski Adventures wouldn't be possible without the support of Swain Resort and the community of specially skilled volunteer instructors.

They've had to make some adjustments to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines during the last two winters, but the program hasn't missed a season.

For Truscott, being in nature and feeling the glide of her skis through the snow has been a much-needed escape.

"You are cooped up in your house and trying to find something that you can get out and do was phenomenal," she said.

Truscott said it was tempting at first to view her disability as a limitation, but adaptive skiing changed her thinking about a lot of things.

"We take things out of our life that bring us joy, thinking that we can never do them," she added. "But the reality is, if we just make some fine-tuned adjustments, we can be out there enjoying everything that everybody else is, too."

On Friday, Feb. 18, Al Sigl Community of Agencies is hosting a Lift For Abilities fundraiser at Hunt Hollow Ski Club. The organization said the proceeds will benefit the more than 55,000 children and adults it serves.

This story was produced by WXXI's Inclusion Desk.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.